What is "Partner Referral"?
Sex or drug-sharing partners of people who have a sexually transmitted disease ("STD") are likely to get that STD. To prevent more disease, the partner needs to be told that he/she may have an STD, and be offered services to prevent, cure or manage the infection. People can contact and inform their partners by themselves, or they can use a free Health Department service called Partner Referral ("PR").

Who can help with PR?
The Health Department has a specially trained group of people, called Disease Intervention Specialists ("DIS"), who can provide the service. They are especially trained to interview, counsel, and locate people while protecting all information.

How is PR done?

  • PR is voluntary. No one has to use the service.
  • The DIS must be called by the doctor, nurse or counselor before meeting the person who has the STD and wants help. This protects against fake referrals.
  • PR is always done face-to-face, not by phone or by mail. Speaking with the partner is done in private, so no one else will hear.
  • The source of information is NEVER revealed.
  • Records on partners are NOT kept. No list of partners is kept anywhere.
  • Protecting the safety of the person with the STD is most important.

How does PR protect people?

  • People are protected from false referrals. The DIS always check to make sure that the person asking for help in referring partners actually has a STD. A doctor, nurse, or counselor must confirm that the person has an STD. This way, the DIS does not need to know the names of people with HIV who want help with referring partners.
  • Pronouns (he/she) describing the infected person are not used.
  • Partners are NOT told when they might have been exposed to the STD.
  • The DIS do not need to know the names of HIV-infected people to offer their services. The DIS answer the partner's questions "Who named me?" with "Someone who cares for your health." They only talk with the partner about the STD and the need to find out if he/she has that STD.

What is PR trying to do?

  • PR counseling aims at reducing sex/needle behaviors that make it more likely to get an STD.
  • PR offers counseling and a chance to receive other medical or social services.
  • PR reduces the amount of STD in a community while protecting the privacy and names of everyone involved.
  • PR reduces the amount of STD in a community while ensuring the safety of people being served.

Why is PR good for the infected person?

  • It helps protect people they care about.
  • It offers safety. Some people with an STD may fear emotional or physical abuse from a partner. PR done by a DIS protects the infected person's identity, allows the referral to occur, and gives the DIS a chance to counsel the person away from anger.
  • An infected person does not have to name all partners. They are free to ask for help with only those partners they are comfortable doing so.
  • A person with an STD takes an active role in their healthcare, as well as the healthcare of their partner(s), by referring partners.

Why is PR good for the partner?

  • Partners may not be aware that their behaviors might make it possible to get an STD. PR counseling will help educate Partners may not be aware that their behaviors might make it possible to get an STD.them and try to help with changes to safer behaviors.
  • PR provides personalized education. Partners are counseled about their behaviors.
  • Partners are offered education, behavior-change counseling, and free medical care to see if they have an STD. They are also offered referrals to other social services, if they wish.

How can I learn more?

  • You can call the Division of STD Prevention of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health at 617-983-6940, 6941, 6942, or 6947. You do not need to tell your name in order to seek or request information.
  • Medical and social service providers can also call this number to arrange for a referral interview with their clients.


This information is provided by Division of Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention within the Department of Public Health.