Ask, and Be Told: Why Emergency Department Providers Should Track Patients’ Sexual Orientation to Help Improve Care Quality

For Immediate Release:
June 28, 2016
Lauren Adams

Study finds a majority of patients are willing to provide their sexual orientation if asked

Boston (06/28/16) – New research presented today at AcademyHealth’s Annual Research Meeting finds that while emergency department (ED) providers may feel uncomfortable about collecting sexual orientation information from their patients, patient respondents are willing to provide it.

“Patient preferences regarding collection of sexual orientation demographic data are underexplored which creates a barrier in evaluating disparities in care that may exist for sexual minorities,” said study’s lead author Adil Haider, M.D., Kessler Director for the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The multisite study included qualitative data from patients and providers and found that while 80 percent of ED providers expressed concerns about offending patients when inquiring about sexual orientation information, only 11 percent of patient respondents indicated that they would be offended. The study also found that non-verbal self-reporting was the preferred method among both patient and provider respondents.

“To provide the best care, it’s important that we understand patients when they’re at their most vulnerable,” said Brandyn Lau, M.P.H., the study’s senior author and assistant professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “But the first step in evaluating emergency care is gathering the data. Right now, we don’t have the data because it is not being routinely collected in a standardized manner. Our study sought to identify how we can do that using the most appropriate, patient-centered method.”

As the site of one quarter of acute unscheduled care visits in the U.S., the ED is an important location for collection of sexual orientation data. Also, in comparison to primary care, ED patients are receiving care from providers who are new to them, which can complicate the provision of truly patient-centered care. The team is planning follow up research to test specific methods in collecting sexual orientation data and what implications the data might have on care moving forward.

Data from “Patient-Centered Approaches to Collect Sexual Orientation Demographic Data: A Mixed Methods Study” will be presented in a session entitled “Emergency Department Query for Patient-Centered Approaches to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: The Equality Study” on June 28, at 9:45 a.m. ET, in room 200 of the Boston Hynes Convention Center. For more information about featured studies, please visit


About the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting

For over 30 years, AcademyHealth's Annual Research Meeting has been the premier forum for health services research, where more than 2,500 attendees gather to discuss the health policy and health system implications of research findings, sharpen research methods, and network with colleagues from around the world. The 2016 Annual Research Meeting is being held June 26-28 in Boston. For more information or to register, visit

About AcademyHealth

AcademyHealth is a leading national organization serving the fields of health services and policy research and the professionals who produce and use this important work. Together with our members, we offer programs and services that support the development and use of rigorous, relevant and timely evidence to increase the quality, accessibility, and value of health care, to reduce disparities, and to improve health. A trusted broker of information, AcademyHealth brings stakeholders together to address the current and future needs of an evolving health system, inform health policy, and translate evidence into action. Learn more at and follow us on Twitter @AcademyHealth.