LGBT Healthcare: A Guide for Physicians

You step into an exam room to see a patient you’ve never cared for before. You say hello, and hear a deep voice say hello back as you are quickly skimming the information they filled out in the waiting room. You smile as you look up, and address the patient by name, “How are you today, Jane?” A look of terror likely washes over your face as you immediately realize that the patient sitting in front of you, wearing jeans and a t-shirt and sporting a full beard, is male. He couldn’t possibly be the Jane whose medical records you just skimmed, or could he? Many times, physicians don’t know what to do when a transgender patient seeks care because there are many gaps in LGBT healthcare. In honor of LGBT Pride Month, which is celebrated in the U.S. every June, here are some LGBT facts and tips to make sure you have an LGBT-friendly practice.

Facts about LGBT Healthcare

Here are some facts about the LGBT community to familiarize you with the topic, before we get into exactly how to make sure your practice is offering friendly LGBT healthcare.

  • LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender
  • There are an estimated 9 million people in the U.S. who identify as LGBT.
  • Disparities exist in LGBT healthcare, such as being refused care, being discriminated against while receiving care and lack of appropriate care available.
  • Doctors lack education when it comes to LGBT healthcare. For example, a 2010 survey suggested that medical schools spend less than five hours on LGBT healthcare training.

Tips for Providing LGBT Healthcare

Ask questions

If you are not asking patients about their preferred identity or sexual orientation, you might not ever know that they are part of the LGBT community. It is important to know if you are caring for an LGBT patient because each of them has unique healthcare needs to address. For example, gay men have a higher risk of contracting HIV, while transgender patients may need hormone therapy. On top of that, LGBT patients have higher risks of depression and suicide. The American Medical Association suggests updating patient intake forms to ask questions that will help you to identify LGBT patients.

Be understanding

Every patient is different. For example, Jane, who was referenced at the start of this blog, was born female. She then started taking hormone therapy shots and transitioned to identify as male. Now he is working toward getting his legal identification changed so that he no longer has to fill out forms as “Jane.” His goal is to change his name to John so that it matches his new gender identity. Although legally he is “Jane,” he no longer wants his physician calling him “she.” Talking with your patients about their preferred gender pronoun is important. Showing them that you respect them and want to make them comfortable will go a long way in improving healthcare disparities for LGBT patients.

Educate yourself

Seek additional information on LGBT healthcare. There are different guidelines out there for physicians that were created by LGBT advocacy groups. The guidelines outline the standard of care that LGBT patients need. Also, don’t forget to use your LGBT patients as a resource. As long as you are asking them relevant questions in a manner that shows your desire to learn, you likely won’t offend your patient. Just like with any other patient, it is important to understand the full picture in order to help them the most.

Be inviting

There are online websites where you can add your practice to an LGBT-friendly provider list so that people in your area looking for a doctor know you’re there. Advertising that you are LGBT-friendly, and making sure your staff is trained as well, will help you provide great LGBT healthcare.

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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