Tips to help meet the needs of LGBTQ patients in your practice

By Michael H. Broder, PhD
Published November 9, 2017

Key Takeaways

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community share the same health concerns as the general population, but they face a number of additional health risks as well as barriers to accessing health care.

Compared to the general population, members of the LGBTQ community often have less health insurance (or other access to health care) as well as higher rates of tobacco use, alcohol use, and substance abuse. They may also be at higher risk for mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, and for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Moreover, members of the LGBTQ community experience an increased incidence of some cancers.

In addition, members of the LGBTQ community often receive lower quality of care due to factors such as stigma, lack of awareness, and provider insensitivity to their particular health care needs.

“To be responsive to all patients’ needs, regardless of individual characteristics, health care organizations must systematically implement practices and strategies that support equitable care for all patients,” writes an expert from The Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits more than 21,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States. “They should build and foster an environment that promotes effective communication, one in which patients feel safe and comfortable, and provide information relevant to their care including information about sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) website provides physician resources for an LGBTQ-inclusive practice and includes articles on LGBTQ health, podcasts, handouts, and presentations developed by the AMA and leaders in LGBTQ health.

“Physicians who create an environment where all patients feel welcome can better meet their patients' often complex health care needs,” reads the preamble on a page of the AMA website devoted to creating an LGBTQ-friendly practice.

Providing a welcoming environment in your practice is key to serving these patients, the AMA says. A good way to start is by providing visual cues that your practice is a safe place for LGBTQ patients. You can do this by displaying brochures and other educational materials addressing LGBTQ health concerns; posting a nondiscrimination statement (you can find one issued by the AMA here); and putting up posters from community-based LGBTQ organizations, including those that address key issues like HIV/AIDS, STIs, smoking cessation, alcohol and tobacco use, substance abuse, mental health issues, cancer screenings, and transgender health.

Customizing your patient intake forms is another way of creating or maintaining a welcoming environment. You can download a sample intake form developed by Fenway Health, an LGBTQ health care, research, and advocacy organization.

You can get advice on other ways to make or keep your practice friendly by listening to a podcast produced by the Journal of Medical Practice Management; it’s a 30-minute discussion with Ellen Kahn, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Family Project, and it provides concrete steps you can implement immediately.

You can also download obtain a set of guidelines developed by the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA). This document includes chapters on creating a welcoming clinical environment for LGBTQ patients as well as special considerations when caring for lesbian and bisexual women, as well as for gay and bisexual men.

“Health care providers can take positive steps to promote the health of their LGBT patients by examining their practices, offices, policies and staff training for ways to improve access to quality health care for LGBT people,” write the authors of the GMLA guidelines.

For decades, social, cultural, and legal barriers have kept LGBTQ people either isolated within predominantly heterosexual communities or concentrated within specific neighborhoods in major American cities. In recent decades, these barriers have begun to crumble and, among the millennial and post-millennial generations, are beginning to vanish entirely. As a clinician, you may be caring for more LGBTQ patients than you realize. For the benefit of your practice, as well as for the health and well-being of your patients, it is now more important than ever that you equip yourself and your staff to meet the needs of all your patients.

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