Do Free STD Testing Clinics Report to the Government?

It's not about where you get tested. It's about what you get tested for. Most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are reportable diseases. Therefore, the truth is that no matter where you choose to go to get tested for STDs, your STDs will probably be reported to the government. It doesn't matter whether you get tested at one of your local free STD testing clinics or at your doctor's office.

Chlamydia screening smear test kit
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

STDs are classified as reportable diseases for a reason. Because most of them can only be transmitted through sex, it should (in theory) be possible to stamp the treatable STDs out of existence through reporting and contact tracing.  The problem is that these diseases are so often asymptomatic that it can be difficult to locate everyone who is infected and help them to find treatment.

If you are diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, hepatitis, chancroid, or syphilis, your doctor is supposed to tell the local health department—which will then inform the CDC.

When Is It Not Reported?

Doctors aren't always all that good at reporting diseases—even when they're legally obligated to do so. It is possible that doctors at free STD testing clinics are more used to reporting, and therefore more likely to do it correctly than doctors in private practice, but the responsibility to notify the government of these reportable diseases is the same. In theory, any STD notification sent by a free STD testing clinic would also be sent by your private physician.

Why Testing Is Important

You shouldn't be afraid to seek treatment at free STD testing clinics because you're worried about disease reporting. If anything, the doctors who practice at free STD testing clinics are likely to be more sensitive to your concerns about social stigma and other related issues. They deal with patients with STDs each and every day, and so it's highly unlikely that anything you can say will shock or surprise them. Reportable diseases are their bread and butter.

Fortunately, whether you choose to get tested and treated at one or another of your local free STD testing clinics or at your doctor's office, the disease reporting shouldn't be a burden on you. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of your identity being reported, there are generally systems in place for anonymous and confidential disease notification, because the fear of identification shouldn't stop anyone from being tested. After all, the purpose of disease reporting is simply to make certain that individuals receive appropriate treatment and to track the progress of STDs in various communities, not to stigmatize or shame people who test positive.

Hopefully, such surveillance can then allow local, state, and national organizations to design more effective intervention programs that will help keep more people from being infected in the future.

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