Measurement and Quality Improvement

Asking patients about sexual orientation, gender identity: study

Andrew D. Pinto, Tatiana Aratangy, Alex Abramovich, Kim Devotta, Rosane Nisenbaum, Ri Wang and Tara Kiran; St. Michael’s Hospital Academic Family Health Team


BACKGROUND: Sexual orientation and gender identity are key social determinants of health, but data on these characteristics are rarely routinely collected. We examined patients’ reactions to being asked routinely about their sexual orientation and gender identity, and compared answers to the gender identity question against other data in the medical chart on gender identity.

METHODS: We analyzed data on any patient who answered at least 1 question on a routinely administered sociodemographic survey between Dec. 1, 2013, and Mar. 31, 2016. We also conducted semistructured interviews with 27 patients after survey completion.

RESULTS: The survey was offered to 15 221 patients and 14 247 (93.6%) responded to at least 1 of the sociodemographic survey questions. Most respondents answered the sexual orientation (90.6%) and gender identity (96.1%) questions. Many patients who had been classified as transgender or gender diverse in their medical chart did not self-identify as transgender, but rather selected female (22.9%) or male (15.4%). In the semistructured interviews, many patients expressed appreciation at the variety of options available, although some did not see their identities reflected in the options and some felt uncomfortable answering the questions.

INTERPRETATION: We found a high response rate to questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Fitting with other research, we suggest using a 2-part question to explore gender identity. Future research should evaluate the acceptability and feasibility of administering these questions in a variety of care settings. These data can help organizations identify health inequities related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

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