In the last ten years, the percentage of US adults who identify as something other than heterosexual has more than doubled. How does this affect medical practices? Finding LGBTQIA+ friendly places don’t pertain only to bars and social groups, but also to making sure as a community we get the proper care we need. If you are looking to make a practice more inclusive and welcoming, these are a few key things to consider when doing so:
Provide care targeted to a specific population.
The LGBTQIA+ population has unique health histories, concerns, and risks. Understand there is a higher rate of anxiety and depression, a higher risk of substance abuse, and a higher risk of HIV/sexually transmitted diseases. It is common for a transgender patient to be doing gender-affirming therapies, such as hormonal therapy or testosterone injections. This population can face a higher volume of physical and sexual abuse, whether it’s from the same or opposite gender. Screening your patients for any concerns, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, can put a patient at ease and help them trust your practice to get them the proper medical care.
Be welcoming and inclusive.
The US Department of Health and Human Services provides a few resources and guidelines to improve your practice for LGBTQIA+ patients. Be respectful of your patients’ identity and build trust with them. Learn and understand important terms, such as FTM/MTF, genderqueer, asexual, pansexual, etc. Recognize and avoid using derogatory terms.
Confidentiality is key! Reassure patients their information will not be accessed by anyone they do not give permission to. This population runs the risk of being targeted due to their identity, so knowing their information will not be shared is important to creating a safe space. Additionally, have your staff take sensitivity training and be respectful of a patient’s identity. Whenever possible, hire people who are part of the community. If your staff does not agree or is not open to accepting LGBTQIA+ employees or patients, “it becomes an HR issue in terms of not meeting the values of the practice,” Clare Madrigal, BSN, RN states in.
It is important to be mindful of how you treat and speak with a patient and making a visually welcoming space can have a positive impact. Display posters highlighting LBGTQIA+ issues, such as World AIDS Day, Pride, and National Transgender Day of Remembrance. Keep magazines out that show images or verbiage related to LGBTQIA+ health. Have your practice’s nondiscriminatory policy displayed in the waiting area.
Avoid discrimination and stigmatization.
It should go without saying, but in order to provide a safe and inclusive practice, you should not make assumptions based on sexuality or gender identity. Just because your patient is a lesbian, bisexual, trans, or gay does not mean they do not have children, have not had sexual partners of opposite genders, or fit any common stereotypes. Don’t assume anything about a patient’s identity or sexual orientation and keep questions gender neutral. A patient can feel “forced” to come out to their physician or caretaker without being ready or comfortable to do so, and making questions and conversation neutral can keep them at ease about disclosing information.
Understand the LGBTQIA+ history to properly treat patients of all generations. Not all members of the LBGTQIA+ community will be 20-somethings. There will be elderly members who have had to hide and may have different mindsets about their sexuality and identity, due to homosexuality being criminalized when they were younger. Elderly patients may have partners they are not legally married to, family members that don’t know about or agree with their orientation or identity, or have trauma related to medical care.
Treat everyone equally and don’t “refer” a patient to a specialist for a common concern you can run yourself. For example, a trans patient wanting to do blood work to test for any deficiencies does not need to go to a Transgender specialist. However, if a trans patient wants to start hormonal treatment or have gender affirming surgeries, you can send them to a specialist if it is something your practice is not familiar with.
Look into resources!
It is always possible to keep learning and growing in your practice with personal experience and by looking for resources. AHEC, our parent company, has two LGBTQIA+ continuing education webinars (CME/CEU) taught by physicians and nurses in the LGBTQIA+ community that goes over health disparities and prejudice in healthcare. The National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center provides continuing education opportunities (CME/CEU ) that can help benefit your practice to becoming more inclusive. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association created a general guide for advice on communicating with LGBTQ+ patients. If you are a member of the community looking for resources, the CDC has an archive for LBGTQIA+ care sorted by state and city. If you are a practice looking to highlight being LGBTQIA+ inclusive, reach out to your local organizations. The community has only grown over the years, so be a space where they can turn to for care.
Happy Pride Month! 🌈