Do Free STI 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 infections (STIs) are reportable diseases. Therefore, no matter where you choose to go to get tested for STIs, your STIs will probably be reported to the government.

It doesn't matter whether you get tested at one of your local free STI testing clinics or at your healthcare provider's office. However, there generally are ways to protect your privacy.

Chlamydia screening smear test kit
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

STIs 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 STIs 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 (human immunodeficiency virus), hepatitis, chancroid, or syphilis, your healthcare provider is obligated to inform the local health department—which will then notify the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The reporting of other STIs differs by state.

When Is It Not Reported?

Healthcare providers aren't always all that good at reporting diseases—even when they're legally obligated to do so. It is possible that healthcare providers at free STI testing clinics are more used to reporting and, therefore, are more likely to do it correctly than healthcare providers in private practice.

But the responsibility to notify the government of these reportable diseases is the same. In theory, any STI notification sent by a free STI testing clinic would also be sent by your private healthcare provider.

Why Testing Is Important

You shouldn't be afraid to seek treatment at free STI testing clinics because you're worried about disease reporting. If anything, the healthcare providers who practice at free STI testing clinics are likely to be more sensitive to your concerns about social stigma and other related issues.

They deal with patients with STIs each and every day, and so it's highly unlikely that anything you can say will shock or surprise them. Reportable diseases are what they specialize in.

Fortunately, whether you choose to get tested and treated at one or another of your local free STI testing clinics or at your healthcare provider'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. This is done 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 STIs 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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3 Sources
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  2. STD Program Guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/program/gl-2001.htm.

  3. Cunningham SD, Kerrigan DL, Jennings JM, Ellen JM. Relationships between perceived STD-related stigma, STD-related shame and STD screening among a household sample of adolescentsPerspect Sex Reprod Health. 2009;41(4):225–230. doi:10.1363/4122509