Doctors are human, and like all humans, they’re bound to have biases. This isn’t an excuse nor a pass for discrimination, but it does mean we need to keep a watchful eye for instances where harmful biases can come to light. For instance, sexual orientation bias can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences for those with various sexual orientations.
Sexual orientation bias in healthcare is a multifaceted problem, resulting in disparities in medical care access, quality of service, and overall health outcomes among LGBTQ+ patients. Let’s delve into the ways sexual orientation bias affects medical patients to foster greater understanding and advocacy.
While it may be beneficial for a doctor to know about a patient’s sexual history, under no circumstances does a patient have to disclose their sexual orientation. While no one can truly determine another person’s sexual orientation simply by looking at them, that does not stop medical professionals from passing judgment and making assumptions. These often dangerous biases can make the examination room a dangerous one for LGBTQ+ individuals to step into.
One of the most immediate and distressing ways sexual orientation bias manifests in the healthcare system is through verbal, physical, or sexual harassment. LGBTQ+ patients often confront derogatory comments, inappropriate questions, unnecessarily invasive or revealing procedures, or even outright hostility based on their sexual orientation. These experiences can deter individuals from seeking medical help in the future, exacerbating their health risks and contributing to the disparities in healthcare access for the LGBTQ+ community.
While it is true that there are LGBTQ+ health disparities, including mental health disorders or substance abuse, these disparities can become biases that cloud the judgment of medical professionals. Medical professionals may overlook certain symptoms or neglect to ask relevant questions due to preconceived notions about a patient's sexual orientation. For example, if a lesbian woman comes into the office reporting nausea and abdominal pain, their doctor may refuse or completely forget to ask if there’s a chance they’re pregnant.
Or if a gay man came in with rashes, sores, or fevers, a doctor may forcibly order STI tests even if the patient insists they aren’t sexually active. These assumptions not only delay or hinder proper diagnosis and treatment but can also create unnecessary stress and discomfort for the patient.
Some healthcare providers, driven by personal prejudices or religious beliefs, may refuse to provide necessary medical services to LGBTQ+ patients. This refusal can range from a decline in routine checkups to denial of critical interventions such as gender-affirming surgeries. How is this possible?
In many states, a doctor can refuse to perform procedures or engage with certain patients for religious reasons. For example, in Florida, the passing of the bill HB 747 protects medical professionals who refuse to treat patients based on their religion. The impact is especially severe in areas where there are limited healthcare providers, leaving LGBTQ+ individuals with few, if any, alternatives for receiving the medical care they need.
Although we’re making strides toward an equitable and equal society, sexual orientation bias still affects medical patients. If you’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community and have been mistreated in a medical setting, you have rights. Contact sexual orientation lawyer Tamara N Holder today to fight against discrimination and malpractice.