Creating a welcoming environment for all patients, including individuals who identify as sexual and gender minorities, is key to providing quality care. When patients feel comfortable and accepted, they are more likely to share details about their health and wellbeing that can better inform care.
A report by the National LGBT Health Education Center explains there are several reasons why those who identify as LGBTQ may have difficulty accessing healthcare. For example, they may have limited access to care due to family rejection, unemployment or homelessness, or they may require services that are not covered by health insurance. Those who identify as LGBTQ might also have had negative experiences with care, sometimes facing discrimination or prejudice from medical staff or becoming discouraged by lack of provider knowledge about their unique needs.
Although there are no LGBTQ-specific diseases or illnesses, the report indicates these individuals are more likely to experience certain health issues. For instance, those who identify as LGBTQ are:
- more likely to smoke and have higher rates of drug/alcohol use, depression and anxiety;
- less likely to seek preventive services, such as cancer screenings; and
- likely to have higher rates of behavioral health concerns.
Healthcare providers can help address these disparities by staying informed about the unique needs of this population.
The Importance of Creating an LGBTQ-Friendly Practice
“Being a patient can be such a vulnerable experience,” writes Columbia University Irving Medical Center’s Jonathan Amiel, MD. “There can be distrust and fear of being ostracized or misunderstood.” Alternatively, he says, when people trust their doctors, they’re more willing to open up about fears and experiences they might not normally disclose.
Simple Tips to Promote Inclusion in Your Medical Office
According to the American Medical Association, these steps can signal that your office is safe for those who identify as sexual and gender minorities:
- Display posters and brochures about LGBTQ health.
- Post a nondiscrimination statement.
- Customize patient intake forms for LGBTQ patients.
- List your practice in the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association Provider Directory.
Guidelines for Communicating with LGBTQ Patients
Communication plays a major role in physician-patient interactions. The following information, published by the National LGBT Health Education Center, outlines communication practices that promote inclusivity.
- Use the terms patients use to describe themselves and their partners.
- Do not use disrespectful language or express surprise at someone’s appearance or behavior.
- Avoid gender terms and pronouns unless you are certain of a patient’s gender identity and/or preferred pronouns.
- Avoid asking unnecessary questions that may seem intrusive.
- Apologize if you make a mistake.
For more information about caring for LGBTQ patients, visit the following resources recommended by the National LGBT Health Education Center.
- Center of Excellence for Transgender Health
- Do Ask, Do Tell: A Toolkit for Collecting Data on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Clinical Settings
- CDC: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health
- Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA)
- National Network of STD Clinical Prevention Training Centers (NNPTC)
- AIDS Education and Training Centers