Today in the chart

Negative Experiences with Healthcare Staff Prevent LGBTQ+ Women From Seeking Care

In new research, three women share stories of ignorance and implicit homophobia from healthcare staff that discouraged them from seeking treatment in the future.

New research finds that not all patients feel comfortable seeking healthcare, and not all patients feel the individuals working in these settings treat them with respect. The review, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found sexual minority women (SMW) — in this case, those who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, or queer — encounter barriers when accessing care. The primary cause of their concerns? Perceived ignorance and prejudice among healthcare professionals, according to the study authors.

What Did the Study Find?

Drawing on 26 different studies that focused on the healthcare experiences of LGBTQ+ women in the UK between 2010 and 2018, researchers observed that SMWs often delay or do not seek care at all. Many respondents had never registered with a provider, and the paper also cited two examples of women refusing to seek treatment despite having a medical problem. The study’s lead author Catherine Meads, MD, Ph.D., a health professor at Anglia Ruskin University, notes that some SMWs have access to good healthcare, but this isn’t the majority.

Ultimately, researchers concluded that healthcare professionals’ behavior toward such patients can “negatively impact access, service uptake and health outcomes … There is a strong need to enhance healthcare professionals’ understanding of how to provide culturally competent care for [LGBTQ+] people and to understand this group’s health needs.”

Several Women Included in the Research Shared Specific Experiences

“If you were feeling bad about yourself, you’ve got low self-esteem or had the experience of homophobic abuse, and then you went somewhere and couldn’t find the information you wanted, it reinforces the difference,” said one respondent.

Another, who attended a medical appointment with her partner, expressed frustration with staff assuming she’s heterosexual: “[The receptionist] refused to put down my partner’s name and … kept saying ‘I’ll just put friend.’ I said, ‘No, I want you to put partner, and she looked at me, lips pursed, and said, ‘I’ll just put friend.’”

A third noted that some healthcare workers seem to lack knowledge about LGBTQ+ bodies, recalling, “I was scheduled for a small bit of surgery and was asked to [take] a pregnancy test. I pointed out that I was not only a gay woman but also a post-op male-to-female trans. The reply was, ‘Well, best to be sure.’”

What Can Healthcare Providers Do?

Dr. Meads speculates that the driving factor behind the behavior of healthcare workers outlined in the study is “a mixture of institutional homophobia, apathy, ignorance, and a few instances of blatant individual homophobia.”

With that in mind, you should assess if you have any implicit biases toward LGBTQ+ patients to prevent yourself from acting on them. The National LGBTQ Health Education Center has a guide for providers that explains how to uncover your prejudices and walks through several scenarios. For example, one outlines how asking a female patient if she “has a boyfriend” could cause her to worry she’d be judged for sharing that she’s in multiple relationships with people of different genders.

You should also learn about the health-related and social issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. It’s necessary for you to “do your job properly and without discrimination,” Dr. Meads says.

In addition, healthcare leaders in a position to implement educational standards about the LGBTQ+ community should consider doing so. “Anything appropriate being used to educate healthcare professionals would be better than the current situation,” Dr. Meads adds.

Last, don’t assume LGBTQ+ people, especially women, face the same health concerns as heterosexual people.

“This is far from the case,” Dr. Meads explains. “In the US, there’s some evidence that there’s a higher death rate from breast cancer in SMW, but no difference in rates of getting the condition, suggesting that SMW are dying needlessly because of difficulties with interacting with their health system.”

Subscribe to our M-F newsletter
Thank you for subscribing! Welcome to The Nursing Beat!
Please enter your email address