Health Care Workers Harbor Biases About Sexual Orientation: Study

Findings show need for sensitivity training, expert suggests

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THURSDAY, July 16, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Your doctor, nurse or other health care worker may be biased when it comes to the sexual orientation of patients, a new study suggests.

Researchers surveyed more than 200,000 health care providers in the United States about their attitudes towards heterosexual, gay and lesbian people between 2006 and 2012.

The results: Heterosexual health care providers tend to have moderate to strong preferences for straight people over lesbian and gay people.

Conversely, gay and lesbian health care providers favored gay and lesbian people over straight people, the survey showed.

The take-home message, according to lead researcher Janice Sabin, is that "training for health care providers about treating sexual minority patients is an area in great need of attention."

"We want all providers to be proficient in treating diverse populations, including the LGBT population," said Sabin, who is a research associate professor in biomedical informatics and medical education at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Among the different types of health care workers surveyed, mental health professionals seemed to have the least bias for straight people over lesbian and gay people. On the other hand, nurses had the strongest bias for straight people over lesbian and gay people, the researchers said.

Sabin's group believes the findings are reflective of American society as a whole: Health care providers are similar to all Americans in that they tend to favor those who share their sexual orientation.

According to the investigators, future research should focus on the effect any of these biases might have on the care of LGBT patients.

The study was published July 16 in the American Journal of Public Health.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about LGBT health.

SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, July 16, 2015


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