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The importance of LGBTQ+ friendly care

By The Health News Team | July 12, 2024
Doctor wearing stethoscope and rainbow pin

Last month, each of Sharp’s seven hospitals were designated as an LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index (HEI). The HEI evaluates health care facilities’ policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of their LGBTQ+ patients, visitors and employees. Sharp’s hospitals all received a score of 100, the maximum rating possible.

It’s clear Sharp’s team members intuitively understand the importance of equity and inclusion in health care — providing compassionate, high-quality care with integrity and excellence is built into the health system’s core values. However, it might not be as obvious to people outside the LGBTQ+ community or in other organizations why LGBTQ+ friendly care is so crucial.

“LGBTQ+ friendly care is care that is provided in an environment that is welcoming, accepting and knowledgeable of the robust LGBTQ+ community,” says Dr. Andrew Brown, a family medicine doctor affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group. “This is so incredibly important, as historically, members of the LGBTQ+ community have been met with judgment and ignorance when seeking health care services.”

The importance of cultural competency

According to Dr. Brown, these negative health care experiences can lead members of the LGBTQ+ community to delay seeking routine primary care and preventive screenings — or forgo them altogether. In fact, researchers found that more than 1 in 6 LGBTQ+ adults reported avoiding health care due to anticipated discrimination. Among transgender adults, 1 in 4 avoided health care for the same reason.

What’s more, it can be difficult for LGBTQ+ people to find a primary care provider in their insurance network that offers LGBTQ+ affirming care. And due to the lack of inclusion in some medical school programs, Dr. Brown notes that providers are not often equipped with the medical knowledge to appropriately provide care for this patient population.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have gone in the room to see a new patient, and the patient tells me how incredibly grateful they are to finally find a gay, LGBTQ+ affirming and knowledgeable doctor,” Dr. Brown says. “I have heard more stories than I can count of patients looking for years to find a gay doctor, or of gender nonconforming patients being passed around between different doctors, before finally seeing me.”

Dr. Brown says these types of stories truly emphasize the need for members of the LGBTQ+ community to be treated the same as all other patients — with respect, compassion and quality care. Following health guidelines and seeking timely preventive care, he says, has been shown to decrease the risk of illness and death among all populations, making equal care vital for LGBTQ+ patients. However, Dr. Brown acknowledges there are still several health care systems and providers that have not done the work necessary to foster an inclusive environment. 

“In many ways, this is more a matter of cultural competency than medical knowledge,” he says. “Anything we can do to provide safe spaces for everyone to seek the care and attention they need will most certainly improve outcomes.”

Improving LGBTQ+ friendly care

As the LGBTQ+ community gains more recognition as a group of individuals with unique social and medical needs, Dr. Brown believes caring for them will increasingly be integrated into the curriculum of medical schools and residency programs. Over time, he says, the physicians being sent out into communities will have both the cultural and medical competency to provide quality care for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I want the LGBTQ+ community to know that there is a shift and push in the medical field on many levels to be more LGBTQ+ inclusive and competent,” Dr. Brown says. “And I want all members of the community to know that it is important to keep up with recommended preventive health guidelines, such as cancer screenings and immunizations.”

Dr. Brown recommends that members of the LGBTQ+ community seek out organizations with LGBGQ+ friendly doctors and clinics. Many health systems, such as Sharp, and insurance providers have a way for doctors to identify themselves as LGBTQ+ knowledgeable and friendly and can help patients get matched with a provider.

“I wish I could say that these are foolproof ways to ensure that you won’t have a non-affirming encounter,” Dr. Brown says. “But they certainly will increase the likelihood of the positive interaction and care you deserve.”

Learn more about LGBTQ+ friendly care at Sharp; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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