LGBTQ? Get the Care You Deserve
It’s no secret that people in the LGBTQ community face certain barriers when it comes to accessing high-quality health care. In a survey of more than 30,000 people who identify as LGBTQ, researchers reported significant health disparities ranging from increased suicide risk to lack of insurance.
“There’s plenty of research to support the idea that people who are LGBTQ have to lobby for themselves to get appropriate care,” says Rachel Lee, M.D., a family medicine physician at Henry Ford Health System. “Some providers aren’t even aware of preventive treatments, counseling and support services for the LGBTQ community. Their patients are the first to educate them.”
Overcoming LGBTQ Health Disparities
And not every provider includes questions about sexual orientation or gender identity as part of their intake. Yet, this same community is disproportionately affected by health problems, including depression, substance abuse and HIV.
If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, use these four strategies to ensure you’re receiving the highest quality care – and staying on top of health concerns.
- Bring a friend. It’s not uncommon for LGBTQ people to feel unsafe in their surroundings. Studies show that people who identify as LGBTQ are significantly more vulnerable to verbal and physical abuse – even in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. There’s safety in numbers. Plus, having a loved one or trusted friend near can help you remember to address all of your concerns.
- Know when to disclose. Physicians should always ask for sexual orientation and gender identity status, says Dr. Lee. But you should never feel obligated to disclose your preferences or circumstances. “If you’re in the emergency room for a cut or broken bone, no one has to know your sexual preferences or gender identity,” says Dr. Lee. If, however, you’re establishing primary care with a new doctor, you should address LBGTQ status during your first visit. If your doctor doesn’t ask about your sexual orientation or which pronouns you prefer, you should consider seeking care elsewhere.
- See an experienced doctor if you’re transitioning. Gender transition care should be accessible, yet many people in the trans community don’t know where to go to get help. “Managing hormones is no more difficult than treating patients with diabetes,” says Dr. Lee. Still, different medical issues may arise depending on where you are in your transition, so it’s important to work with a physician who is experienced in this arena. If you think you’re in the wrong place, don’t be afraid to ask for a referral.
- Ask questions. Asking your provider key questions can alleviate headaches for everyone involved. A few to consider: Why do you do this? What percent of your practice is from the LGBTQ community? Are you comfortable helping patients transition? Then, ask targeted questions about the environment where he/she practices, things like “What is this health system doing to create equity? How are they creating an inclusive environment? What types of training do they offer?” These are all valid questions that should be answered before or during your first appointment.
The best way to find the right provider is to ask your peers for a referral. “Word of mouth is a good way to identify LGBTQ-friendly physicians,” says Dr. Lee. “Forums, chat rooms, Facebook groups often share helpful providers.”
“At Henry Ford, we are committed to providing comprehensive services to all patients, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” says Dr. Lee, citing the health system’s Healthcare Equity Index Award. “If patients find themselves in a facility that doesn’t prioritize LGBTQ concerns, it’s critical that they seek care elsewhere.”
To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Rachel Lee is a family medicine doctor, seeing patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center – Harbortown in Detroit.