Global survey suggests doctors' religious affiliation affects care for homosexual patients

A new survey suggests doctors need to be more aware of how their religious beliefs may affect the care they give to homosexual patients.

Providing culturally competent care to diverse patient populations has become a focal point for improving quality and engagement. In turn, increasingly diverse patient and provider populations have generated friction in the form of derogatory comments from patients directed toward their doctors, suggesting that increased discomfort can often come hand-in-hand with the opportunities increased diversity provides.

Now a new survey finds that roughly 1 in every 5 physicians admit their religious beliefs make them feel unprepared to provide care for homosexual patients. The actual effect on care differed based on physicians’ religious preferences.

RELATED: Nurses must embrace ‘cultural competency’ to improve care for diverse patients

The survey results were published in the American College of Chest Physicians’ CHEST Journal and also reported at the association’s annual meeting. More than 10,000 practitioners responded from 40 countries, and the participants included a wide range of providers from physicians and nurses to students, pharmacists and caregivers.

When study authors mapped religious beliefs to the way practitioners approached homosexual patients, they found that non-Christian faiths and Catholics displayed more discomfort, while Jehovah’s Witnesses and those who practiced Hinduism were the most likely to provide different treatment. The authors conclude from this that healthcare providers need to be aware of the ways their religious beliefs might affect their care.

However, the study does not break its findings out by region or geography, making it difficult to discern exactly how widespread the problem might be in the United States.

And some physicians have reported that knowing a patient’s sexuality or gender identity can be helpful for doctors addressing specific medical needs and can improve the doctor-patient relationship, as FierceHealthcare has reported.

RELATED: Doctors shouldn’t be afraid to ask about patients’ sexual orientation, gender identity

But study author Joseph Varon, M.D., who practices at Texas Medical Center in Houston, told MedPage Today that he believes the anonymous nature of the survey provides a more realistic look at prejudices that still hold here.

“I saw it throughout my training and throughout my career,” he said.