Whether or not they realize it, heterosexual healthcare providers are biased against LGBT patients, a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health found, but how those biases affect care is unclear.
Researchers administered the Implicit Association Test to nearly 19,000 doctors, nurses and other providers, and 214,000 nonproviders in the U.S. and around the world between 2006 and 2012. They found that heterosexual providers always implicitly favored heterosexual patients over lesbians and gays. Straight nurses held the strongest implicit preference for straight men over gay men, according to the study abstract.
The implicit preference by straight providers for straight people was moderate to strong, according to the study. The "controversial" implicit bias technique shows that people are prejudiced, even if they don't demonstrate that prejudice through their actions, according to a blog post published by Science 2.0. The test asked participants to endorse various statements about the type of people they prefer. Despite the results, the study also found that explicit preferences for straight over lesbian and gay people were weaker for all groups studied, according to the abstract.
As providers look to assess whether those implicit preferences affect patient care, a previous study also published in the American Journal of Public Health found that U.S. academic faculty medical practices lacked lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)-competent physicians. More than half of respondents in that study said their practices had no training in place to identify LGBT-competent physicians.
Research shows that sexual orientation can cause significant disparities in quality of care, along with race, income and gender, especially in rural areas. Such provider biases have prompted the transgender community to create a directory, TransRecord.com, rating providers on their knowledge and treatment of trans and genderfluid patients.