Author: Sara Habibipour
June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month. This community, similar to others, has faced significant disparities in the healthcare system from lack of healthcare access to a higher prevalence of mental health issues. Let’s learn more about these various disparities:
Although society may seem to be becoming more progressive towards ensuring equal healthcare for LGBTQ+ individuals, that’s not always the case. As of March 2021, the “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act," made its way to the House of Representatives for review; it aims to prohibit trans youth from seeking certain medical procedures and sets standards for schools to notify parents if they believe the student’s perception of gender is inconsistent with their sex. To read more about this particular issue, visit author Tate Fonda’s article.
Discriminatory acts such as these still occur everyday, and because of that, LGBTQ+ patients continue to face mistreatment and discrimination at doctors’ offices. In a survey by American Progress, among transgender people who had visited a doctor or health care providers’ office in the past year:
29 percent said that a doctor or other health care provider refused to see them because of their actual or perceived gender identity.
12 percent said a doctor or other health care provider refused to give them health care related to gender transition.
21 percent said a doctor or other health care provider used harsh or abusive language when treating them.
In addition, LGBTQ+ individuals face higher rates of health disparities related to physical and behavioral health. According to Cigna:
LGBTQ+ people are more likely to rate their health as poor and report more chronic conditions.
Lesbian and bisexual women have higher rates of breast cancer, and transgender men and women are at greater risk.
LGBTQ+ people have higher rates of HPV infection.
Lesbian and bisexual women may have a higher risk of cervical cancer, and gay and bisexual men may have a higher risk of anal cancer.
LGBTQ+ individuals are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts
LGBTQ+ individuals are also at a greater risk of anxiety and eating disorders
As far as access to care, the disparities are still present. Also according to Cigna, LGBTQ+ people are less likely to have health insurance, less likely to fill prescriptions, and are more likely to use the emergency room or delay getting care. But, this begs the question: why?
The answer can mostly be tied back to explicit and implicit biases that all medical professionals personally face. A large study of heterosexual, first-year medical students demonstrated that about half of students reported having negative attitudes towards lesbian and gay people (explicit bias) and over 80% exhibited more negative evaluations of lesbian and gay people compared to heterosexual people that were outside of their conscious awareness (implicit bias) (BMC Medical Education).
Biases are hard to eliminate; you can’t snap your fingers and expect them to disappear overnight. But, there are steps we can take to eliminate explicit and implicit biases against LGBTQ+ patients
1) Educational programs that increase student and provider knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+-related health care
2) Greater experiential learning: medical and other health care professions students’ comfort levels regarding LGBTQ+ health care were increased through experiential learning
3) LGBTQ+ individuals should be included in discussions with health care professions students and providers, and there should be rehearsals of relevant skills as a strategy to increase comfort levels.
Hopefully this Pride Month we can all educate ourselves on the health disparities LGBTQ+ patients face. Keep a lookout on the Blog for more related articles!