It doesn't hurt to ask: Most patients are willing to share their sexual orientation, study says

Emergency room doctor physician stethoscope scrubs Getty/gordonsaunders
Healthcare professionals should routinely ask patients about their sexual orientation. Getty/gordonsaunders

Physicians and other healthcare providers greatly underestimate the willingness of patients to disclose their sexual orientation, a new study has found.

While nearly 80% of healthcare professionals believed patients would refuse to provide information about their sexual identity, in reality, only 10.3% of patients reported they would not provide the information if asked, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The Institute of Medicine and The Joint Commission recommend routine documentation of patients’ sexual orientation in healthcare settings, but healthcare providers have not collected the data in part because of fear of offending patients, the researchers said.

"Unlike racial/ethnic and age data, information about sexual orientation and gender identity has not been collected routinely in healthcare settings, which limits the ability of researchers and clinicians to determine the unique needs of the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities," Brandyn Lau, assistant professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s senior author said in an announcement.

Researchers focused on emergency room settings and said routine collection of data on sexual orientation is important for both individual patients and the normalization of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals within the broader society. Both patients and clinicians indicated nonverbal self-report as the preferred method of collecting the information, similar to how other demographic information is collected via paper or electronic records. Lau suggested clinics and hospitals begin to mandate collection data on sexual orientation.

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