In what they say is the first study that looks at a variety of healthcare providers and their implicit attitudes towards lesbian women and gay men, scholars say they have found there is widespread implicit bias toward lesbian women and gay men. 

Implicit bias is a controversial technique in psychology and sociology where people are shown to be prejudiced, even if they don't act in prejudiced ways. In the paper, the authors use implicit association to conclude there is moderate to strong implicit preferences for straight people over lesbian and gay people are widespread among heterosexual providers.

But it isn't just heterosexuals. Lesbian and gay health providers expressed implicit and explicit preferences for lesbian and gay people over straight people. Bisexual providers were found to have mixed preferences.

Mental health providers held the weakest 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. In short, healthcare providers hold a bias for people who shared their own sexual identity, even if they don't act biased in any way. The beauty of implicit bias is you are certain to be so so in a prospective study, like wanting to say healthcare providers are biased, it is sure to be so. 

They used results from the Sexuality Implicit Association Test developed to show presence of implicit bias towards 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. Test takers 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 healthcare respondents by their profession - medical doctor, nurse, mental health provider, other treatment provider or non-provider - to assess attitudes specifically from healthcare providers. Test takers voluntarily accessed the Sexuality Implicit Association Test on Project Implicit.

"For healthcare organizations that aim to serve these populations, these data suggest an opportunity to examine methods likely to mitigate implicit biases, such as eliminating discretion from decision-making, use of clinical guidelines, awareness of personal bias as self-caution, organizational policies that promote objective decision-making, and inclusion of counter-stereotypical experiences in educational programs," the authors conclude.

 Citation: "Health care providers' implicit and explicit attitudes toward lesbian women and gay men," published in the American Journal of Public Health.