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Professionals Disagree About Asking Patients About Sexuality

THURSDAY, Jan. 18, 2018 -- National Health Service (NHS) England recently recommended that professionals ask all patients their sexual orientation at every opportunity, although opinions are divided on whether this is appropriate, according to an article published online Jan. 17 in The BMJ.

Richard Ma, M.B.Ch.B., from Imperial College London, and Michael Dixon, a general practitioner from Devon, both in the United Kingdom, discussed whether all patients should be asked about their sexual orientation.

According to Ma, professionals should ask patients how they define their sexuality at every encounter; asking these questions will allow lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) patients to access better health care. Sexual orientation monitoring is not just about sex but also about issues that unite non-heterosexual identities. In order to make health care services for LGBT patients fairer, they need to be counted, Ma writes. In contrast, Dixon feels that asking all patients about their sexuality is inappropriate. Given that NHS England maintains that asking about sexuality won't affect patient treatment, it is unclear why patients need to be asked about their sexuality. Each general practitioner should assess whether it is appropriate to ask these questions, Dixon writes.

"No one doubts that there can be great health benefits from knowing a patient's sexuality, when offered voluntarily," Dixon writes. "There are also many occasions when, and patients for whom, it is quite appropriate for a doctor to ask. It is the 'all patients' bit that is wrong."

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Posted: January 2018