To examine the effectiveness of methods to improve partner notification by patient referral (index patient has responsibility for informing sex partners of their exposure to a sexually transmitted infection).Design
Systematic review of randomised trials of any intervention to supplement simple patient referral.Data sources
Seven electronic databases searched (January 1990 to December 2005) without language restriction, and reference lists of retrieved articles.Review methods
Selection of trials, data extraction, and quality assessment were done by two independent reviewers. The primary outcome was a reduction of incidence or prevalence of sexually transmitted infections in index patients. If this was not reported data were extracted according to a hierarchy of secondary outcomes: number of partners treated; number of partners tested or testing positive; and number of partners notified, located, or elicited. Random effects meta-analysis was carried out when appropriate.Results
14 trials were included with 12 389 women and men diagnosed as having gonorrhoea, chlamydia, non-gonococcal urethritis, trichomoniasis, or a sexually transmitted infection syndrome. All studies had methodological weaknesses that could have biased their results. Three strategies were used. Six trials examined patient delivered partner therapy. Meta-analysis of five of these showed a reduced risk of persistent or recurrent infection in patients with chlamydia or gonorrhoea (summary risk ratio 0.73, 95% confidence interval 0.57 to 0.93). Supplementing patient referral with information for partners was as effective as patient delivered partner therapy. Neither strategy was effective in women with trichomoniasis. Two trials found that providing index patients with chlamydia with sampling kits for their partners increased the number of partners who got treated.Conclusions
Involving index patients in shared responsibility for the management of sexual partners improves outcomes. Health professionals should consider the following strategies for the management of individual patients: patient delivered partner therapy, home sampling for partners, and providing additional information for partners.