The reality of homophobia in medical practices

Dean Andersen We've posted about health care disparities for certain communities before. This is part 1 of 2 posts that gives a more in-depth look at cultural competency in medical practices.

By Dean Andersen

Cultural Competency seems to be the new buzz word going around the health care industry these days, as providers strive to give better service and increase health outcomes. Yet many of us really don’t know what being culturally competent entails, especially when associated with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) Community.

Studies show that LGBT populations share the same basic health needs as the general population, but experience health disparities and barriers related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression.

While attitudes are improving, homophobia in medical practices is a reality. A 1998 survey of nursing students showed that 8 - 12 percent (dependent on whether the respondent rated gay, lesbian, bisexual) despised LGBT folks, 5 - 12 percent found LGBT people disgusting and 40 - 43 percent believed that LGBT folks should keep their sexuality private. Real or perceived, may LGBT folks carry some level of distrust for medical systems.

Caring for patients is the job of a health care provider. To do so competently requires that the provider understand important details about the patient’s behaviors, and that the patient invests a high degree of trust in the provider. Homophobia in the medical fields undermines that trust, diminishes quality of care, and reduces satisfaction of LGBT patients.

The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association states that in order to gain trust, providers need to create an atmosphere of openness and affirmation with all patients. There are numerous components to creating an environment welcoming to LGBT patients; including outreach, office space, intake forms, confidentiality policies, staff training, and the patient interview. Small changes you make in these areas can have a big effect on the comfort felt by your LGBT patients. Increase comfort and that will translate into more trust, and more satisfying patient-provider relationships and better health outcomes.

Check back tomorrow to learn a few simple ways that medical practices can increase the comfort of LGBT patients.

Dean Andersen, M. Ed., is currently a Health Educator at MU Student Health Center and Project Manager on a MFH grant housed in Community and Family Medicine. Andersen has ten years experience as Project Manager on a variety of grants funded by the National Institute of Health and the Missouri Foundation For Health. One current grant, Out, Proud, and Health, strives to address health disparities in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Community. He served as Co-Chair for 2.5 years on S.A.F.E. (Smoke-free Air For Everyone), a local coalition that successfully passed a smoke-free workplace ordinance in Columbia Missouri and is a current Board Member of Tobacco Free Missouri, a statewide organization focused on reducing the negative impact of tobacco on all Missourians.


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