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How to handle sensitive questions at the doctor’s office or hospital

| Healthy You | Community | Resources | Wellness

A senior adult woman listens carefully as a female doctor explains a concept to her.

Information gathered at your visit can help address health disparities for everyone.

When you visit the doctor’s office or check in at the hospital, you’re probably used to being asked about your family history, health habits and lifestyle. Just like measuring your heart rate and blood pressure, these questions help your provider understand your needs.

At your next healthcare visit, your care team may ask a new set of questions. These are related to things that you may not typically associate with your health, but that can affect your well-being. They may include asking about your:

  • Cultural or religious background
  • Family makeup/relationships
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Gender identity/pronouns used
  • Living arrangements and transportation
  • Social connections (activities with friends, family or in the community)
  • Ability to afford basic needs

You may be curious about why requests for this kind of information are included as part of your appointment.

Simply put, PeaceHealth gathers this information to help you get healthcare that serves the whole person — in body, mind and spirit.

Why am I being asked these questions?

Historically, healthcare in America hasn’t been delivered fairly. This imbalance, known as health disparities, is especially true for:

  • People of color
  • People living with disabilities
  • Members of the LGBTQ+ community
  • Rural Americans
  • People living in poverty

PeaceHealth recognizes that health disparities affect our patients. We aim to address them by improving how we care for the people and communities we serve. We can best carry out this mission when we have an accurate picture of our patients’ needs.

This means that we sometimes need to ask you sensitive questions. You don’t have to answer any that you find uncomfortable. If you choose to share this information, your answers will help us better understand your needs and deliver whole-person care. In some cases, these conversations also may allow us to help with your social and economic needs.

We understand that people who have experienced health inequity may feel unsafe when these topics come up. Whenever possible, we’ll ask these questions in writing or in a private space.

What happens with this information after it’s collected?

Your answers to these questions are protected health information (PHI). Federal law strictly limits how PHI can be shared. To learn more about your rights and choices, see PeaceHealth's Notice of Privacy Practices.

Your care team will use your answers to guide care planning with you. PeaceHealth will also use the information that you and others provide to understand and improve our care for everyone.

What else is important for me to know?

These new questions are part of an ongoing process to better serve our patients and communities. This means we may adjust the way the questions are asked, or ask new questions in the future.

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