Women patients reported that healthcare providers were more likely to assume they were heterosexual, adding that more than one in ten were uncomfortable when they disclosed they were lesbian or bisexual.
They were also twice as likely as men to report that their care was negatively affected by their disclosure.
Researchers from Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand, surveyed 2,269 lesbian, gay and bisexual people to discover how they felt about revealing their sexuality and the reaction of primary healthcare providers, such as family doctors and practice nurses, when they did.
"It's important that healthcare providers are aware of people's sexuality as non disclosure has been shown to have a negative impact on their health" says nurse researcher and lecturer Dr Stephen Neville.
"For example, people who are lesbian, gay and bisexual are more likely to face an increased risk of suicide, depression and other mental health problems."
Key findings included:
The study forms part of the "Lavender Island" project - the first major study to be undertaken in New Zealand about access to health care by lesbian, gay and bisexual people and the attitudes of the people who care for them.
Participants were surveyed in 2004 having been recruited through mainstream and lesbian, gay and bisexual media and venues. 84 per cent responded via a website and 16 per cent completed a freepost copy of the questionnaire, which was developed with input from a community advisory group of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
55 per cent of the respondents were male and the sample was highly educated, with just over half having a degree, compared to 15 per cent of the general New Zealand population.
45 per cent were in a relationship with a same-sex partner they lived with and 14 per cent with a same-sex partner who lived elsewhere.
Four per cent said their main relationship was with a member of the opposite sex.
23 per cent of the 1,846 people who responded to the question about children said they had some kind of parenting relationship. This equated to 18 per cent of the total sample.
"It is clear from our study that providing lesbian, gay and bisexual people with the chance to disclose their sexual identity is an integral part of providing high quality, appropriate healthcare" says Dr Neville.
"Previous studies have shown that people are more likely to seek healthcare and adhere to treatment regimes if they know that healthcare providers will be comfortable with their sexuality and not automatically assume they are heterosexual.
"A number of health problems do tend to be more prevalent in lesbian, gay and bisexual people, such as depression. And in the era of HIV and hepatitis B and C, appropriate sex and lifestyle healthcare education must be a core part of any health assessment.
"Being aware of a patient's sexual orientation enables healthcare providers to tailor care to their individual needs and tackle any risk areas, in the same way that they would do by taking any other personal characteristics, such as a person's age, race or family health history, into account."
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Notes to editors
Perceptions of lesbian, gay and bisexual people of primary healthcare services. Neville and Henrickson, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand. Journal of Advanced Nursing. Volume 55.4, pages 407 to 415. (July 2006).
Journal of Advanced Nursing, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2006, is read by experienced nurses, midwives, health visitors and advanced nursing students in over 80 countries. It informs, educates, explores, debates and challenges the foundations of nursing health care knowledge and practice worldwide. Edited by Professor Alison Tierney, it is published 24 times a year by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, part of the international Blackwell Publishing group. www.journalofadvancednursing.com
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