Only half of sexual medicine doctors ask about orientation

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Only about half of sexual medicine doctors in a recent survey say they routinely ask patients directly about sexual orientation, a small study finds.

Of those doctors who do not ask, more than 40 percent say that sexual orientation is irrelevant to patient care, a position contrary to longstanding clinical evidence, the researchers say.

“If providers don’t ask, patients may not provide important medical information pertinent to their lifestyle.”

“There’s apparently a great lack of awareness even among those with a special interest in sexual medicine of the many health considerations a provider must take into consideration when patients are members of the LGBT community,” says senior study author Amin Herati, assistant professor of urology at the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

“For example, men who mostly have sex with men are at much higher risk of some sexually transmitted infections,” says Herati. “If providers don’t ask, patients may not provide important medical information pertinent to their lifestyle.”

Herati’s team surveyed nearly 100 health care practitioners who are members of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America. The findings appear in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Previous studies, Herati says, showed that men who have sex with men (or MSMs) have worse health outcomes overall and are at a greater risk for a range of medical and psychological conditions. Evidence also shows that patients experience improved mental health when they disclose their sexual orientation.

With existing estimates indicating that fewer than 20 percent of clinicians provide medical information pertinent to LGBT patients, Herati and the research team set out to better understand how frequently health care providers ask patients about sexual orientation and their rationale for asking or not asking.

To do this, they mailed an 18-question survey to 696 members of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America. Of the 92 members who completed the survey, 93.3 percent reported treating MSM patients, but only 51.7 percent said they routinely ask about sexual orientation.

Of those that do not ask, 41.9 percent reported believing that sexual orientation is irrelevant to their patients’ care and 25.6 percent said patients would disclose this information if they thought it was important.

Those who did ask about sexual orientation were more likely to practice in urban areas, were more likely to inquire about a greater number of sexual behaviors, and were more likely to tailor their care to LGBT needs.

Doctors don’t think we’ll answer this identity question

The investigators say that open communication with health care professionals may relieve stress and anxiety for patients, as well as assure better clinical care.

Herati says a program to be implemented in the Johns Hopkins Health System later this year is an effort to foster more open communication. It will offer patients the option of filling out a sociodemographic ID card including sexual orientation information, designed for patients to show or give to physicians and other health care providers during medical visits.

“We hope that will take away some of the inertia or awkwardness among providers and help provide a segue into discussing their sometimes special health needs,” Herati says.

Additional authors of the study are from Johns Hopkins, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, and Columbia University Medical Center/Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Source: Johns Hopkins University