HRC Blog

Which Box Do I Check? Petrow Talks Relationship Statuses on Medical Forms

Post submitted by Bo Suh, HRC Digital Media Internwashington post

In this week’s advice column on The Washington Post, Steven Petrow tackled the issue of which box to check on medical forms for people with same-sex partners in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.

The question came from a gay man in the rural south who did not know which box – single, married, divorced, or widowed – to check on his health forms when his partner of 25 years was alive. The question is driven by financial considerations, an individual’s support system, and for determining next of kin, according to Petrow.

“When the choice isn’t there, write in a “partnered” option and list your same-sex partner’s name,” Petrow advised. 

One of the problems for LGBT patients is that the question is alienating. It does not give LGBT people the option to truly and accurately state their relationship status, especially if they are in a long-term relationship.

“By omitting ‘partnered’ as an option, health-care providers miss an opportunity to fully understand their patients’ lives. This is also true for unmarried opposite-sex couples,” Petrow writes. 

Adding LGBT-inclusive options on medical forms will do even more good for patients in addition to making them feel welcome, Petrow argues.

“Adding a ‘partnered’ option to the form would also signal to a patient that the doctor is welcoming to all and could open the door to conversations about sexual health that a new patient may be afraid to initiate. Not having that choice may make a patient feel invisible,” Petrow writes.

Relationship status is not the only important thing missing for LGBT patients. LGBT people are susceptible to certain health risks, such as higher rates of smoking and drinking, psychological distress, and limited access to medical care. Knowing a patient’s sexual orientation gives healthcare providers vital information to offer the best treatment, Petrow argues.   

For more information on LGBT health, visit HRC’s resource page.

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