Breaking Down Barriers: Standing Up for LGBTQ Patients

Members of the LGBTQ community may not be as comfortable seeing their doctors as you might think. A new study shows many individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their sexuality can often face discrimination at the doctor’s office – and this can discourage them from seeking care again in the future. Finding another doctor to deliver the same services isn’t always an option, forcing some members of the LGBTQ community to forgo care altogether.

We’re here to shed some light on LGBTQ discrimination in healthcare, so you can make sure everyone feels welcome at your facility.

LGBTQ Discrimination, In and Out of the Hospital

While these numbers tend to vary, it’s estimated that those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or queer make up around 4.1% of the U.S. population, which equals roughly 10 million adults. This marks a sharp increase from 2012, in which just 3.5% of the population identified as LGBTQ. As more Americans feel comfortable identifying as such, new studies show that coming out of the closet isn’t always easy.

According to NPR, over half of people who identify as LGBTQ say they have experienced some form of harassment, including slurs and violence:

  • 57% say they have personally experienced slurs about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • 51% reported that they or an LGBTQ friend or family member has experienced violence because of their sexual orientation.
  • 57% say they or an LGBTQ friend or family member has experienced threats or nonsexual harassment.
  • 51% state they or an LGBTQ friend or family member has experienced sexual harassment.
  • 34% say they or an LGBTQ friend or family member has experienced verbal harassment or questioning in the restroom.

Limited Access to Care

Finding an LGBTQ-friendly healthcare provider can be a challenge as well. Patients may feel uncomfortable talking openly about their health or sex life when consulting with a doctor, which can affect the overall quality of care they receive.

According to American Progress, among LGBTQ respondents who had visited a doctor or healthcare provider within the last year:

  • 8% said that a doctor or healthcare provider refused to see them because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
  • 6% said that a doctor or healthcare provider refused to give them care related to their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
  • 7% said that a doctor or healthcare provider refused to recognize their family, including a child or a same-sex spouse or partner.
  • 9% said that a doctor or healthcare provider used harsh or abusive language when treating them.
  • 7% said that they experienced unwanted physical contact from a doctor or healthcare provider (such as fondling, sexual assault, or rape).

The results show that those who identify as transgender have a more difficult time accessing care than people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning. Among transgender people who had visited a doctor’s or healthcare provider’s office in the past year:

  • 29% said a doctor or healthcare provider refused to see them because of their actual or perceived gender identity.
  • 12% said a doctor or healthcare provider refused to give them healthcare related to gender transition.
  • 23% said a doctor or healthcare provider intentionally misgendered them or used the wrong name.
  • 21% said a doctor or healthcare provider used harsh or abusive language when treating them.
  • 29% said that they experienced unwanted physical contact from a doctor or healthcare provider (such as fondling, sexual assault, or rape).

LGBTQ discrimination in healthcare can lead to a range of negative outcomes for patients. Some patients may choose to withhold important information, while others may seek care elsewhere, but finding an alternative isn’t always easy:

  • 18% of LGBQ people and 31% of transgender people said it would be “very difficult” or “not possible” to find the same type of services at a different hospital.
  • 17% of LGBQ people and 30% of transgender people said it would be “very difficult” or “not possible” to find the same type of services at a different community health center or clinic.
  • 8% of LGBQ people and 16% of those who identify as transgender said it would be “very difficult” or “not possible” to find the same type of service at a different pharmacy.

These numbers get even worse for LGBTQ patients who live in non-metropolitan, or rural, areas where healthcare providers tend to be in short supply.

As it turns out, doctors and healthcare providers may not have the tools they need to properly care for LGBTQ individuals. According to a recent study of PCPs, just 29% agreed that their training adequately prepared them to address the needs of the LGBTQ population while 51.1% disagreed.

Health Concerns of the LGBTQ Community

Members of the LGBTQ community tend to have different healthcare needs than those of the general population. These individuals face higher rates of homelessness, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, depression, anxiety and suicide. They are also more likely to be victims of physical abuse, including rape and harassment.

As a healthcare provider, understanding the needs and concerns of the LGBTQ community is crucial when it comes to bettering their health. Here are a few statistics to keep in mind:

  • LGBT youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • Gay men are at higher risk of HIV and other STDs, especially among communities of color.
  • Lesbians and bisexual females are more likely to be overweight or obese.
  • Transgender individuals have a high prevalence of HIV/STDs, victimization, mental health issues, and suicide and are less likely to have health insurance than heterosexual or LGB individuals.
  • LGBT populations have the highest rates of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use.
  • Lesbians are less likely to get preventive services for cancer.

Keep these facts in mind as you go about caring for LGBTQ patients. Everyone deserves access to quality healthcare. Don’t make assumptions about your patient’s sexuality or gender. Keep an open mind when listening to their health concerns and always focus on bettering their overall health, regardless of your personal beliefs.

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