Tuesday, March 5, 2024
Health & HappinessOpinion

How healthcare providers can better serve LGBTQ patients

Beth Battaglino, RN, CEO, HealthyWomen, calls for an end to the disparities in the healthcare sector for LGBTQ patients.

With Women’s Health Month in May just around the corner, health outcomes are a critical metric for evaluating our progress toward equality for people of all sexualities and gender identities. LGBTQ people face serious health disparities, such as higher prevalences of mental illness, drug use, alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted infections and obesity. 

These health disparities are primarily the products of stigma, discrimination and systemic issues: LGBTQ individuals have lower rates of health insurance and can experience high levels of stress and financial instability as a result of harrassment and discrimination. Health disparities are often even more severe for LGBTQ people who are also members of other marginalized groups, such as racial or ethnic minorities. 

The systemic discrimination that contributes to these health disparities is also found within doctors’ offices. LGBTQ individuals report experiencing refusal of care, refusal to recognize family members, use of harsh or abusive language and unwanted physical contact from healthcare providers. LGBTQ patients who have negative experiences when accessing care may avoid future care or choose to not disclose their sexuality or gender identity in the future.

The systemic marginalization that LGBTQ individuals face requires systemic fixes. However, there are steps healthcare providers can take to increase comfort and trust in care settings for LGBTQ patients. If patients are worried about facing stigmatization and discrimination at the doctor’s office or feel like they need to educate their healthcare provider on LGBTQ issues, they are less likely to seek out and recieve the health care they need.

Here are some steps healthcare providers can take to better serve LGBTQ patients:

  1. Using identity-affirming language: Filling out required intake, health history and insurance forms can be distressing to navigate when patients can’t use language with which they identify. Revising these forms to have inclusive options for sexuality and gender identities, pronouns, gender-neutral language for sexual and romantic partners and other steps can make patients feel more welcome. Healthcare providers can make it their protocol to use gender-neutral language with patients in the exam room or at the front desk, asking for their pronouns, and implementing inclusivity at the “bedside.”
  2. Providing welcoming visual cues: The American Medical Association recommends providing visual cues that your office is a welcoming space, such as brochures and educational materials addressing LGBTQ health concerns, publicly posting a nondiscrimination statement, and displaying posters from LGBTQ or HIV/AIDS nonprofit organizations. 
  3. Educating the team: Stay up to date with the latest LGBTQ health research and be knowledgeable about the needs of LGBTQ patients. For example, being familiar with the needs of patients undergoing hormone replacement therapy or patients living with HIV/AIDS helps take the burden of educating their providers off their shoulders. 
  4. Ensuring cultural competency from check-in to checkout: A patient’s healthcare experience goes beyond the examination room. It’s important to make sure that their whole experience is positive, and this includes extending cultural competency training to all staff, providing gender neutral bathrooms, and making all administrative processes identity-affirming.

Additional resources on ways in which providers can better serve LGBTQ patients can be found on the GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality website.

As important as it is for all providers to increase their cultural competency when it comes to serving LGBTQ populations, it’s the unfortunate truth that many LGBTQ individuals will continue to feel apprehension when accessing care. That’s why there are resources to help LGBTQ people find welcoming care. If we can lower the barriers to receiving care, we can help minimize the health disparities that exist. 

About the Author

Beth Battaglino, RN-C, CEO of HealthyWomen brings a unique combination of sharp business expertise and women’s health insight to her leadership of the organization. Beth has worked in the health care industry for more than 25 years helping to define and drive public education programs on a broad range of women’s health issues. She launched and has expanded the HealthyWomen.org brand. As a result of her leadership, HealthyWomen was recognized as one of the top 100 women’s health web sites by Forbes for three consecutive years, and was recognized by Oprah magazine as one of the top women’s health web sites. HealthyWomen now connects to millions of women across the country through its wide program distribution and innovative use of technology.

Queer Forty Staff

Queer Forty writing staff work hard to bring you all the latest articles to help inspire and inform.

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