Addressing LGBTQ+ health inequities: the vital role of healthcare providers
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June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, a time to celebrate the achievements of the LGBTQ+ community and highlight their continued efforts to achieve equal justice and equal opportunity. Recent years have seen the advancement of rights for members of this community, but while progress has been made, there’s still a lot to be done. Equity in healthcare is one of those areas in which societally, we can do better.
LGBTQ+ people face a number of health disparities, including higher rates of mental health conditions, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS. These disparities are due to a number of factors, including stigma, discrimination, lack of access to appropriate care, and a limited understanding of LGBTQ+ health needs. Health professionals can play a critical role in addressing disparities and improving the health and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community. This calls for a proactive approach from healthcare providers to address these challenges head-on.
Here are some ways to provide inclusive care for LGBTQ+ patients:
Collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity
Healthcare providers can collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity from patients using intake forms and through provider discussions. This can help ensure that LGBTQ+ patients receive appropriate care.
Create an LGBTQ+-friendly practice
Creating a welcoming and inclusive healthcare environment is essential for LGBTQ+ individuals to access quality care without fear of discrimination. This includes training staff on LGBTQ+ health issues, using gender-neutral language, and displaying LGBTQ+ inclusive posters and educational materials. Providers can also list their practice in the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) Provider Directory which is accessible to the public and lists LGBTQ-friendly practices in the United States.
Provide culturally-competent care
Healthcare providers can provide care that is sensitive to the unique needs and experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals. For instance, healthcare providers can discuss sexual orientation and gender identity in a non-judgemental manner, use appropriate pronouns, and provide referrals to LGBTQ+-friendly providers and resources.
Offer telehealth appointments
In-person LGBTQ+-affirming healthcare is not always available to patients in some areas. Therefore, virtual visits may be an LGBTQ+ patient’s best option. Providers should ensure that staff is up to date on telehealth best practices for LGBTQ+ patients and use appropriate pronouns and gender-neutral language during telehealth visits.
Advocate for pro-LGBTQ+ policies
Beyond providing individual care, healthcare providers can leverage their knowledge and expertise to advocate for policy changes that promote LGBTQ+ health equity. This includes supporting and actively participating in efforts to improve healthcare access, insurance coverage for gender-affirming care, non-discrimination policies, education and awareness about LGBTQ+ health issues, and increased funding for related research.
Healthcare providers have a pivotal role in reducing health disparities faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. By embracing inclusivity, providing culturally-competent care, and advocating for policy changes, they can contribute to creating a healthcare system that is equitable, affirming, and responsive to the diverse needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Together, we can work towards a future where everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can access high-quality healthcare and achieve optimal well-being.