Most U.S. patients would disclose sexual orientation to docs

(Reuters Health) - While most doctors think patients prefer not to disclose their sexual orientation, a new survey found people are willing to provide the information when asked.

Only one in 10 people would refuse to provide their sexual orientation, researchers found.

The goal of the research is to develop “a patient-centered method to ask patients about their sexual orientations and gender identities,” said lead author Dr. Adil Haider, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Haider and colleagues write in JAMA Internal Medicine that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Institutes of Medicine recommend routine collection of information on sexual orientation. The government recently said there should be a way to include that information in electronic health records.

In the new study, researchers examined patients’ willingness to report their sexual orientation in the emergency department and the best way to collect that information.

They interviewed 53 patients and 26 healthcare providers from the greater Washington, D.C. area. Then they conducted a national survey with 804 straight participants and 712 lesbian, gay or bisexual participants. They also surveyed 429 doctors and nurses who work in emergency departments.

In the interviews, most people said sexual orientation is always relevant to their treatment at the emergency department. Many believed it was something their healthcare providers needed to know.

Healthcare providers, on the other hand, viewed sexual orientation as something to ask about only when medically relevant. One nurse said sexual orientation is nobody’s business if the patient comes in for a cold or a cut.

“They don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or weird,” Haider told Reuters Health. “So they think patients are not going to want to answer this question.”

“Meanwhile, the patients are saying ‘just ask us,’ but you need to ask everybody,” he said.

Based on the national survey, about 78 percent of healthcare providers thought patients would refuse to provide their sexual orientation. In fact, only 10 percent of patients said they would not share that information.

People who identified as bisexual were more likely than others to say they would refuse to report their sexual orientation. That reluctance may be tied to past studies showing bisexual individuals face more difficulty with their sexual orientation than other sexual minorities, the researchers write.

Haider and colleague recently finished a study in which they tested ways of asking patients about sexual orientation. The results have not been published yet.

“People just want to feel normal and go to a place where they don’t feel judged and are treated the same,” Haider said.

SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, online April 24, 2017.