Many health care providers, like much of the general population, seem to be biased toward those who share their own sexual identity, according to a new study at the University of Washington.

Among heterosexual providers, the researchers found a widespread “moderate to strong” implicit preference for straight people over lesbian and gay people. Similarly, among lesbian and gay health providers, there is expressed implicit and explicit preferences for lesbian and gay people over straight people. Bisexual providers were found to have mixed preferences.

Mental health providers had the least implicit bias for heterosexual people over lesbian and gay people, and nurses held the strongest implicit bias for heterosexual people over lesbian and gay people.

The researchers note that clinical care of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population is a somewhat neglected area in curriculum in nursing, medicine, and other areas of healthcare education.

“We want all providers to be proficient in treating diverse populations, including the LGBT population,” said lead researcher Dr. Janice Sabin, University of Washington (UW) research associate professor in biomedical informatics and medical education.

Drs. Rachel G. Riskind of Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., and Brian A. Nosek at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, were co-authors of the study.

For the study, researchers used the Sexuality Implicit Association Test developed to assess presence of implicit bias toward either heterosexual or homosexual individuals. The test captured demographic data and implicit association test results for more than 200,000 participants between May 2006 and December 2012.

Respondents were asked to indicate their explicit preferences towards heterosexual, lesbian, and gay people by endorsing statements ranging from “I strongly prefer straight people to gay people to “I strongly prefer gay people to straight people.”

The study categorized health care respondents by their profession — medical doctor, nurse, mental health provider, other treatment provider, or non-provider — to assess attitudes specifically from such providers.

Sabin noted that “training for health care providers about treating sexual minority patients is an area in great need of attention.”

Although the study found implicit bias among healthcare providers, Sabin said future research should examine how providers’ implicit and explicit preferences toward sexual orientation affect delivery of care to members of sexual minority populations.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Source: University of Washington