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Open Access Research article

Better than nothing? Patient-delivered partner therapy and partner notification for chlamydia: the views of Australian general practitioners

Natasha L Pavlin1*, Rhian M Parker2, Anna K Piggin2, Carol A Hopkins34, Meredith J Temple-Smith1, Christopher K Fairley34, Jane E Tomnay5, Francis J Bowden6, Darren B Russell7, Jane S Hocking8, Marian K Pitts9 and Marcus Y Chen34

Author Affiliations

1 Department of General Practice, The University of Melbourne, 200 Berkley Street, Carlton, Victoria, Australia

2 Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia

3 Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, 580 Swanston Street, Carlton, Victoria, Australia

4 Melbourne School of Population Health, The University of Melbourne, Carlton, Victoria, Australia

5 Centre of Excellence in Rural Sexual Health, School of Rural Health, The University of Melbourne, 49 Graham Street, Shepparton, Victoria, Australia

6 Australian National University and Canberra Sexual Health Centre, Garran, ACT, Australia

7 Cairns Sexual Health Service, Cairns Base Hospital, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

8 Key Centre for Women's Health in Society, The University of Melbourne, Carlton, Victoria, Australia

9 Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, Latrobe University, 215 Franklin Street, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2010, 10:274  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-10-274

Published: 20 September 2010

Abstract

Background

Genital chlamydia is the most commonly notified sexually transmissible infection (STI) in Australia and worldwide and can have serious reproductive health outcomes. Partner notification, testing and treatment are important facets of chlamydia control. Traditional methods of partner notification are not reaching enough partners to effectively control transmission of chlamydia. Patient-delivered partner therapy (PDPT) has been shown to improve the treatment of sexual partners. In Australia, General Practitioners (GPs) are responsible for the bulk of chlamydia testing, diagnosis, treatment and follow up. This study aimed to determine the views and practices of Australian general practitioners (GPs) in relation to partner notification and PDPT for chlamydia and explored GPs' perceptions of their patients' barriers to notifying partners of a chlamydia diagnosis.

Methods

In-depth, semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 40 general practitioners (GPs) from rural, regional and urban Australia from November 2006 to March 2007. Topics covered: GPs' current practice and views about partner notification, perceived barriers and useful supports, previous use of and views regarding PDPT.

Transcripts were imported into NVivo7 and subjected to thematic analysis. Data saturation was reached after 32 interviews had been completed.

Results

Perceived barriers to patients telling partners (patient referral) included: stigma; age and cultural background; casual or long-term relationship, ongoing relationship or not. Barriers to GPs undertaking partner notification (provider referral) included: lack of time and staff; lack of contact details; uncertainty about the legality of contacting partners and whether this constitutes breach of patient confidentiality; and feeling both personally uncomfortable and inadequately trained to contact someone who is not their patient. GPs were divided on the use of PDPT - many felt concerned that it is not best clinical practice but many also felt that it is better than nothing.

GPs identified the following factors which they considered would facilitate partner notification: clear clinical guidelines; a legal framework around partner notification; a formal chlamydia screening program; financial incentives; education and practical support for health professionals, and raising awareness of chlamydia in the community, in particular amongst young people.

Conclusions

GPs reported some partners do not seek medical treatment even after they are notified of being a sexual contact of a patient with chlamydia. More routine use of PDPT may help address this issue however GPs in this study had negative attitudes to the use of PDPT. Appropriate guidelines and legislation may make the use of PDPT more acceptable to Australian GPs.