Everyone deserves to find a healthcare provider with whom they feel safe and respected. This is particularly important to people who identify within the LGBTQ+ community, who have historically been discriminated against within healthcare. Not only does having a safe provider improve the user experience, but it can also have significant health implications as well.
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What is LGBTQ+ Friendly Healthcare?
LGBTQ+ friendly healthcare is healthcare that meets the diverse needs of the LGBTQ+ community and also ensures that such individuals feel safe and affirmed by their providers. This type of care is developed based on a conscious effort by the provider and their clinic. There are several elements that clinics providing LGBTQ+ friendly care will provide, among them being:
- A safe and welcoming environment: Many clinics will display posters, brochures, and other educational materials for LGBTQ+ health concerns. Customized intake forms and a displayed nondiscrimination statement can also make people feel more comfortable.
- Meeting standards of practice: Clinics wishing to provide excellent care to the LGBTQ+ community will generally follow a standardized set of guidelines, for example, those set out by the LGBT Health Access Project. There are standards relating to staff, patient rights, intake, confidentiality, and community outreach.
How to Find an LGBTQ+ Friendly Clinic or Provider
For LGBTQ+ individuals, healthcare can be an intimidating setting, and meeting with a new provider can place people in a vulnerable position. Therefore, you must find a provider you know you can trust to provide respectful, affirming, and safe care. Below is a list of ways to find an LGBTQ+ friendly provider near you.
Word of Mouth
You can use many resources to find an LGBTQ+ friendly provider. The first, and often most valuable, can be word of mouth. Asking other LGBTQ+ individuals which providers they use can be quite fruitful, especially if you ask someone you are close to and trust. Additionally, if you are moving or looking for a specialist, you can ask an LGBTQ+ provider that you already know if they have any colleagues or suggestions for you.
Call in Advance
Calling clinics in advance of making an appointment can be very telling. You can ask several questions to help you gauge how LGBTQ+ friendly a clinic is, including questions regarding the clientele of the clinic, the gender identity and sexuality of the staff, and whether or not the clinic has a nondiscrimination policy place. If a doctor’s office promotes inclusivity at their place of business, they will ensure that everyone on their staff has gone through proper LGBTQ+ training. Even talking to the person at the front desk will give you the information you need to know.
Search Through Provider Directories
The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GMLA) is the leading LGBTQ+ health body in the United States. They have a provider directory, which is open to the public and lists LGBTQ+ friendly medical practices in each state. This can be an invaluable tool for finding an appropriate provider in your area.
Additionally, the Healthcare Equality Index, created by the Human Rights Campaign, has a ranking tool that measures the inclusivity of medical facilities. This tool is also available to the public and can give you some insight into the openness of each facility’s staff and environment. Another provider directory that can be helpful is the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which can help you find gender-affirming providers and care.
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Why LGBTQ-Friendly Care Matters
It is essential to find a provider who is educated on the specific needs of the LGBTQ+ community and with whom you feel safe and supported. There are a number of health issues that relate to the LGBTQ+ community, which many providers are not well-versed on.
Every individual and couple is different and will have their own healthcare needs. That being said, below is a list of some of the general issues that members of the LGBTQ+ community may face, which providers should be aware of:
- Breast cancer: Lesbian and bisexual women are at a greater risk of developing breast cancer but are less likely to screen for such cancers. With early detection being of the utmost importance, increasing breast cancer surveillance among this community is critical in decreasing the burden of this disease and allowing for swift diagnosis and treatment.
- Intimate Partner Violence: Unfortunately, when compared with their heterosexual counterparts, lesbian and bisexual women had a higher rate of intimate partner violence.
- Substance Use: Lesbian and bisexual women may also exhibit higher alcohol and drug use rates than heterosexual women. These individuals may also have higher rates of smoking, cocaine use, and marijuana use.
- HPV: Despite widely believed misinformation, HPV can be spread from same-sex encounters between women. Therefore, these women need to be vaccinated against HPV and have regular pap smears (as recommended by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists).
- Intimate Partner Violence: While gay and bisexual men are not at a higher risk of intimate partner violence than other people who have sex with men, they are less likely to seek help, which may worsen the situation.
- Substance Use: Gay and bisexual men are more likely to use tobacco and alcohol than their heterosexual counterparts. Substances such as crystal meth have become popular among gay men as well.
- Body Dysmorphia and Eating Disorders: The rate of eating disorders is higher in gay and bisexual men than in heterosexual men.
- STIs: Some sexually transmitted infections are higher among men who have sex with men than other groups. This includes HIV, Gonorrhea, Hepatitis A, and Syphilis.
- Barriers to Care: People of trans experience may have had a history of negative interactions with medical staff and are likely to avoid seeking care in the future. This often includes preventative care such as pap smears, mammograms, and prostate cancer screening.
- Substance Abuse: Gender-expansive people are at a higher risk of alcohol and tobacco use than the general population.
- Intimate Partner Violence: Gender non-conforming people may be at a higher risk of intimate partner violence than other people. Unfortunately, many IPV resources do not accommodate trans individuals, leading to further barriers to care.
Of course, any member of the LGBTQ+ community may also experience difficulty with fertility and contraception, so providers caring for these individuals should be well versed in the available options and latest research. Another consideration regarding LGBTQ+ health is that there is a lack of appropriately targeted mental health services, even though the stigma and discrimination faced by this group put them at an increased risk of mental illness.
LGBTQ+ Friendly Healthcare Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Finding the right provider is complex and requires both time and research. You will need to make many considerations in your search for an LGBTQ+ friendly provider. We have compiled a list of some of the frequently asked questions regarding LGBTQ+ friendly providers below to help you better understand this complicated topic:
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What are providers doing to make themselves more LGBTQ+ friendly?
LGBTQ+ friendly care and health issues have now made their way into the curricula of many medical schools. This is a highly positive development and will hopefully lead to a better trained and prepared workforce moving forward. Additionally, studies are being undertaken to understand how providers can best support LGBTQ+ individuals in understanding and identifying health issues and possible disparities. Schools are also pushing to recruit more LGBTQ+ students to provide better representation within the medical field.
If I do not openly identify as LGBTQ+, will going to an LGBTQ+ friendly clinic “out” me?
Coming out is an exciting but stressful process. The decision to share your sexuality or gender identity with others should be made by you alone. Healthcare providers are prevented by HIPAA from sharing privileged information with anyone and would never disclose your private information to a third party without your permission.
How do I complain if I feel discriminated against by a provider based on my LGBTQ+ status?
It is illegal to be discriminated against, denied treatment, or harassed based on gender identity or sexuality. Additionally, many states also have rules surrounding the use of preferred names and pronouns. If your rights have been violated, there are a number of ways to report this treatment. Depending on the setting, you can file a complaint directly to the provider’s office, hospital, or the appropriate government agency (for example, the local Human Rights Commission or Department of Health).
Finding an LGBTQ+ friendly provider is essential to both your health and wellbeing. Finding a healthcare provider that is just right for you and your needs can be a scary and stressful process. By using word of mouth, calling ahead, and looking up providers using online directories, you will be able to find a team equipped to provide LGBTQ+ friendly care.
If you’re looking for an affordable care option, Mira can help. Mira does not discriminate based on sexuality or gender identity and can help you access services such as urgent care, lab testing, and 80% off prescriptions, all for just $45 per month.
Dvora is a recent medical graduate and current MPH student who is passionate about women’s health and health equity. She hopes to specialize in Obstetrics and Gynecology and is excited to join the Mira team in empowering people through healthcare. In her spare time she enjoys exercise, reading and spending time with her family and her dog, Dash.