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April 28, 2017

Patients more willing to disclose sexual orientation than docs expect, study finds

Daily Briefing

    Although a majority of physicians think patients would prefer not to disclose their sexual orientations while receiving care in an ED, most U.S. residents say they are willing to disclose such information, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

    Study details

    For the study, researchers interviewed 26 health care professionals and 53 patients in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas about the collection of sexual orientation information. The researchers also conducted a national online survey of 1,516 potential patients, including:

    • 804 who identified as straight;
    • 289 who identified as gay;
    • 244 who identified as lesbian; and
    • 179 who identified as bisexual.

    The online survey also included responses from 209 ED physicians and 220 ED nurses.


    According to the researchers, about 77.8 percent of clinicians who participated in the study said they thought patients would refuse to disclose their sexual orientations in the ED. However, just 10.3 percent of patients who participated in the study said they would refuse to disclose the information in such a setting. According to the study, bisexual individuals were more likely than others to say they would refuse to disclose the information.

    Further, the researchers found that most of the patients said they felt their sexual orientations would always be relevant to the care they receive in an ED, and many believed their health care providers need to know their sexual orientations. In addition, the researchers found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) patients recognized the importance of reporting information on sexual orientation for several reasons, including for both the treatment they receive in the ED and "the societal benefits of recognition and normalization of LGB minorities."

    How hospitals are changing to serve transgender patients

    However, some health care providers said they should ask patients about their sexual orientations only when medically relevant. According to the researchers, those findings suggest that "patients and health care professionals have discordant views on routine collection of data on sexual orientation."

    Researchers call for standard, national questions about patients' sexual orientations

    Adil Haider—the study's lead author, an active trauma and critical care surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and a researcher at Harvard Medical School—said health care professionals "don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or weird … so they think patients are not going to want to answer" questions about their sexual orientations. However, the findings indicate that "the patients are saying 'just ask us,' but you need to ask everybody."

    The researchers wrote that there should be a "standardized, patient-centered approach for routine collection of sexual orientation data … to help to identify and address health disparities among lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations" on a national scale (Seaman, Reuters, 4/25; Haider et al., JAMA Internal Medicine, 4/24).

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