Today in the chart

5 Ways You Can Improve Care for Your LGBTQ Patients

From discrimination to higher rates of suicide, LGBTQ people face many barriers to receiving the optimal healthcare they deserve.

June is National Pride Month, a time to honor the impact LGBTQ people have had on the world and to recognize and try to alleviate the health disparities that still affect this community every day.

Health Risks for LGBTQ People

About 3.8 percent of Americans from various races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, identify as LGBT. Meanwhile, 29 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and 30 of transgender people delay or avoid seeking healthcare services (compared to 17 percent of heterosexuals). LGBT people are twice as likely to be uninsured as their heterosexual peers. Moreover, LGBT people have higher tobacco, alcohol, and drug use rates and a greater risk of contracting STIs, attempting suicide, and homelessness. These are all barriers to this community receiving the optimal healthcare they deserve.

Previous research also indicates that biases, often subconscious or unintentional, from healthcare providers, are still prevalent, despite increased acceptance of the LGBT community in recent years. For example, a 2015 study found heterosexual nurses held strong implicit preferences for heterosexual people over gay and lesbian people. In addition, the average nursing school spends only 2.12 hours on LGBTQ health issues.

Of course, inevitable mental and physical health issues come with being a member of a stigmatized minority group. For example, one study found that LGB respondents in states without protective policies were five times more likely than those in other states to have two or more mental disorders. Another found that LGB people living in communities with lots of antigay prejudice die 12 years earlier than their peers in other locations.

What Clinicians Should Know about Treating LGBTQ People

It’s natural to think that treating all patients with the same respect will minimize the discrimination LGBTQ people face in healthcare settings, but that’s not the case. A recent report from Nursing 2022 offers some specific strategies for improving this community’s quality of care.

  • Educate yourself about intersectionality

Factors beyond sexual orientation and gender identity influence a patient’s experience in the world, especially in healthcare settings. Understand that race, age and class can create different concerns from one patient to another. Some aspects of a patient’s identity may be hidden. Above all else, help your patients feel safe presenting their whole identity before treatment.

  • Encourage SOGI disclosure

Intake forms rarely ask about sexual orientation and gender identity; when they do, they usually have limited relationship status and gender options. Research shows that without being asked about SOGI, LGBTQ people might wonder if they can safely disclose their identity without it resulting in substandard care. That’s why nurses should ask about SOGI during the assessment. Plus, this knowledge can help screen and prevent more common conditions in LGBTQ people and help better understand a patient’s support system. Worried your patient won’t want to share their SOGI? A recent study found that’s the case with only ten percent of LGB patients, and another suggested LGBTQ patients believe disclosing improves communication and makes them more comfortable. Use open-ended questions and always ask if the patient is okay with the information becoming part of their medical record.

  • Seek out training 

Three nationally respected organizations offer training in LGBTQ cultural competence for healthcare professionals, both for individuals and staff. They are:

  • Lead your workplace in better LGBT cultural competency

The time nurses spend with patients positions them as the best advocates for improving LGBT care throughout their facilities. Consider creating a committee that involves a variety of healthcare professionals and local LGBTQ community members.

  • Empower LGBTQ patients to make decisions about their care

Think about working with your patients instead of on them, one study explains. The goal is to increase your patient’s interest in shared decision-making and, eventually, their trust.

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