When you go to the doctor, you want him or her to know everything about you that might affect your health. That’s why a new study says that medical records should include the patient’s sexual orientation. Without that information, the study says, medical groups will not be able to recognize disparities in care based on sexual orientation and take the necessary steps to correct them.
The authors of the study, published in the journal LGBT Health, note that data shows that lesbians are less likely to get screened for cervical cancer and that there is a higher incidence of mental health issues related to stress among LGBT patients. But without routine collection of data about sexual orientation, addressing those issues and identifying others will remain a problem.
“Given the outward invisibility of LGBT people and their history of invisibility in the health-care system, it is critical for clinicians to address and screen for health conditions disproportionately affecting LGBT people and have frank discussions with patients about sexual identity and behavior and gender identity,” the authors write. “However, most clinicians don’t ask questions about these topics; many are uncomfortable discussing sex with patients. Gathering data on sexual and gender identity in EHR [electronic health records] will improve our understanding of LGBT disparities and help improve clinicians’ conversations with patients about LGBT issues.”
There is a precedent for collecting such personal information. Medical records for Medicaid patients routinely includes information about race and language, allowing providers and researchers to analyze gaps in care. The government rejected including information about sexual orientation when it instituted the Medicaid guidelines but is reconsidering the issue. The study notes that 145 LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations have submitted comments to the government in support of including the information in medical records.