While rainbow-colored flags may wave proudly from hotel balconies and sports arenas, LGBTQ+ patients might still feel some discrimination in the medical space, according to a Center for American Progress survey.
“Despite health care being considered a basic human right by the World Health Organization, it’s common for LGBTQ+ folks to face difficulties not only when trying to access care but also within the walls of the doctor’s office or hospital,” says Samantha Estevez, MD, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility fellow in New York.
In Medscape’s Physicians’ Views on LGBTQ+ Rights Issues Report 2022: Strong Emotions, Contrary Opinions, physicians were asked whether they see disparities in the care LGBTQ+ patients receive in comparison with the care that non-LGBTQ+ patients receive. About 35% of physicians said LGBTQ+ patients receive a different level of care; 52% of respondents younger than 45 said so.
It’s an issue unlikely to be resolved without the medical community’s awareness. With insights from four LGBTQ+ clinicians, here are several steps physicians can take to close the disparity gap.
Update intake forms
Many patient medical forms are populated with checkboxes. These forms may make it easier for patients to share their medical information and for practices to collect data. But unfortunately, they don’t allow for patients to fill in contextual information.
“It’s extremely important for health care professionals to understand the people they are serving,” says Nicholas Grant, PhD, ABPP, president of GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ+ Equality. Dr. Grant is a board-certified clinical psychologist in Hawaii. “The more accurate we are with our information gathering and paperwork, the more accurate we will be at serving our LGBTQ+ communities.”
Dr. Grant recommends asking open-ended questions, such as the following:
- What is your gender identity?
- What was your assigned sex at birth?
- What pronouns do you prefer?
- What gender(s) are your sexual partners?
However, Frances Grimstad, MD, a Boston-based ob/gyn and GLMA board member, adds this advice: Before revising intake forms, consider their purpose.
“As an ob/gyn, information about a patient’s sexual orientation and their sexual activity is beneficial for my care,” says Dr. Grimstad. “But that information may not be relevant for a physical therapy clinic where most patients are coming in with knee injuries. So, you shouldn’t just place items on your intake forms by default. Instead, clinicians should consider what is relevant to the encounter you’re having and how you are going to use the information.”
Take stock of posters and brochures in the office and signs outside restrooms. If they communicate traditional gender roles, then it may be time for a change.
“It’s important to ensure representation of all types of people and families in your office,” says Chase Anderson, MD, an assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry in San Francisco.
Hang posters with images of diverse families. Display brochures that address LGBTQ+ health concerns when warranted. And for restrooms, replace traditional binary images with gender-neutral ones. You can also add signage about each bathroom’s purpose, suggests Dr. Grimstad.
“Let’s not just de-gender bathrooms,” she says. “Let’s hang signs that tell if the bathroom has multiple stalls, urinals, or handicap access. Let signage focus on the functions of each bathroom, not gender.”