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“No One’s at Home and They Won’t Pick up the Phone”: Using the Internet and Text Messaging to Enhance Partner Services in North Carolina

Hightow-Weidman, Lisa MD, MPH*; Beagle, Steve BS*; Pike, Emily BS*; Kuruc, JoAnn RN, MSN*; Leone, Peter MD*†; Mobley, Victoria MD; Foust, Evelyn MPH; Gay, Cynthia MD*

doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000087
The Real World of STD Prevention

Background The Internet and mobile devices are increasingly used by men who have sex with men to find potential partners. Lack of partner information, besides e-mail addresses or user profiles, limits the ability to adequately perform partner notification by traditional means and test those at high risk. To streamline North Carolina Internet Partner Notification (IPN) services, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill collaborated with the North Carolina Division of Public Health beginning in July 2011 to formalize state IPN and text messaging for partner notification (txtPN) policies and centralize notification practices by designating a single IPN/txtPN field coordinator within the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Methods We compared the number of IPN and txtPN contacts initiated and their outcomes in July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, and compared with outcomes in January 1, 2010, to December 31, 2010, the year before the collaboration.

Results Overall, 362 IPN contacts were initiated compared with 133 initiated in 2010. More than half (59.1%) were black; mean age was 28.8 years. Almost all were men who have sex with men (83.7%). Approximately two-thirds (n = 230; 63.5%) of contacts were successfully notified using centralized IPN. Seven new cases of HIV infection, 11 new cases of syphilis, and 19 known previous HIV-positive persons were identified. Text messaging for partner notification was used for 29 contacts who did not initially respond to traditional notification or IPN; 14 (48%) responded to txtPN in a median time of 57.5 minutes (interquartile range, 9–2708).

Conclusions Centralization of IPN services augmented partner detection of new HIV and syphilis diagnoses. Text messaging for partner notification represents a potentially effective method for augmenting traditional partner services. In addition, IPN and txtPN allow identification of HIV-infected persons in need of linkage to care.

This study evaluated statewide combined Internet and text messaging partner notification activities. Centralization of services resulted in an increased and high yield of new HIV and syphilis diagnoses.

From the *Division of Infectious Diseases, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC; and †North Carolina Division of Public Health, Raleigh, NC

Part of this work was funded by a cooperative agreement between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (5U01PS001559). The authors would like to acknowledge the efforts of all the North Carolina Disease Intervention Specialist for their hard work and commitment to public health.

Conflict of interest: None declared.

Correspondence: Lisa Hightow-Weidman, MD, MPH, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Campus Box 7030, Chapel Hill, NC 27599. E-mail:

Received for publication August 16, 2013, and accepted December 2, 2013.

© Copyright 2014 American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association