Background: The Institute of Medicine and The Joint Commission have recommended asking sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) questions in clinical settings and including such data in Electronic Health Records (EHRs). This is increasingly viewed as a critical step toward systematically documenting and addressing health disparities affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The U.S. government is currently considering whether to include SOGI data collection in the Stage 3 guidelines for the incentive program promoting meaningful use of EHR. However, some have questioned whether acceptable standard measures to collect SOGI data in clinical settings exist.
Methods: In order to better understand how a diverse group of patients would respond if SOGI questions were asked in primary care settings, 301 randomly selected patients receiving primary care at four health centers across the U.S. were asked SOGI questions and then asked follow-up questions. This sample was mainly heterosexual, racially diverse, and geographically and regionally broad.
Results: There was a strong consensus among patients surveyed about the importance of asking SOGI questions. Most of the LGBT respondents thought that the questions presented on the survey allowed them to accurately document their SOGI. Most respondents--heterosexual and LGBT--answered the questions, and said that they would answer such questions in the future. While there were some age-related differences, respondents of all ages overwhelmingly expressed support for asking SOGI questions and understood the importance of providers' knowing their patients' SOGI.
Conclusions: Given current deliberations within national health care regulatory bodies and the government's increased attention to LGBT health disparities, the finding that patients can and will answer SOGI questions has important implications for public policy. This study provides evidence that integrating SOGI data collection into the meaningful use requirements is both acceptable to diverse samples of patients, including heterosexuals, and feasible.