40% of providers who don't ask about sexual orientation say it's irrelevant to care

Only half of healthcare practitioners regularly ask their patients directly about their sexual orientation — and of those who don't ask, over 40 percent say sexual orientation is not relevant to patients' care, findings from a small survey published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found.

Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers sent an 18-question survey between August and November 2016 to 696 healthcare practitioners who are members of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America.

The survey asked for participants' age, gender, sexual orientation, degree/qualifications and practice setting. They also asked how participants assessed (if they did) patients' sexual orientation and whether they tailored care for the needs of men who have sex with men, or MSM patients. Ninety-two Sexual Medicine Society members completed the survey.

"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," said senior study author Amin Herati, MD. "For example, men who mostly have sex with men are at much higher risk of some sexually transmitted infections, and if providers don't ask, patients may not provide important medical information pertinent to their lifestyle."

Although about 93 percent of the Sexual Medicine Society members who completed the survey said they treated MSM patients, only about 52 percent said they routinely asked about sexual orientation.

Of the providers who do not ask about sexual orientation, about 25 percent said patients would disclose this information if they thought it was important.

Open communication with healthcare professionals could relieve patients' stress and anxiety and assure better clinical care, the researchers said.

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