Inclusive Innovation and Pride Month
A 2011 study of 176 medical schools found that their students only got approximately five hours of education directly related to LGBT health. Furthermore, a third of those schools had no LGBT health training whatsoever.
While a lot has changed over the last decade, with more medical schools than ever before focussing on the health needs of the LGBTQIA+ community, we, as a medical community, still have a long way to go.
Health Issues Facing the LGBTQIA+ Community
According to Healthy People 2020, which is an initiative started by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 1 in 5 people from the LGBTQIA+ community has avoided medical treatment or care because of their fear of discrimination.
In a survey conducted by 19thNews, 24% of LGBTQIA+ Americans said they had been blamed for their health problems while seeking healthcare, compared to only 9% of non- LGBTQIA+ people.
“The health of disparity populations is something that really should be the focus of health profession students,” says Dr. Madeline Deutsch, an associate professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
Deutsch is the director of UCSF’s Transgender Care program. She believes that medical schools already do a fairly good job of addressing some disparities, like those based on race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status but “Sexual and gender minorities have historically not been viewed as a key population, and that’s unfortunate because of the size of the population, and because of the extent of the disparities that the population faces.”
A 2018 study of students at 10 medical schools found that around 80% felt "not competent" or "somewhat not competent" at treating sexual and gender minority patients.
According to a 2022 poll conducted by Gallop, 7.2% of the American population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or something other than heterosexual.
A recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine emphasized the importance of covering LGBTQIA+ health at all levels of medical training, including graduate medical education and continuing medical education (CME).
It’s clear that more has to be done to educate the health community about the health needs of LGBTQIA+ and that education needs to begin in medical school.
Communication and Inclusion Improvements In 2023
Regardless of whether you’re a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, a doctor, or a healthcare professional, anyone can contribute to making the health industry more inclusive and accessible to the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole.
No one should ever feel like they can’t seek adequate healthcare because of their race, religion, economic status, or sexual orientation.
So, here are five ways that anyone can help to create a more inclusive LGBTQIA+ healthcare community.
1. Understand the Health Issues Facing the LGBTQIA+ Community
According to an article in Health, some of the health issues which disproportionately affect the LGBTQIA+ community include sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), violence, substance abuse and addiction, mental health issues, eating disorders, and heart disease. Unfortunately, while more is being done to address the medical communities understanding of LGBTQIA+ issues, discrimination and fear still prevent many LGBTQIA+ from seeking the healthcare they need and are entitled to receive.
2. Join the LGBTQIA+ Community
Immersing yourself in the LGBTQIA+ community is one way to build understanding and also create connections within the community. Many people within the LGBTQIA+ community intersect with the world of health and technology.
3. Get LGBTQIA+ Data Right
When we collect health data, it’s vital that we include demographics from the LGBTQIA+ community to ensure that our health system can become more culturally inclusive and responsive. However, because information on health conditions by sexual orientation and gender identity data isn’t routinely collected, identifying issues that specifically face the LGBTQIA+ community is extremely difficult.
In an article published in the National Library of Medicine, it was recognized that sexual orientation and gender identity data was needed ‘to document, understand, and address the environmental factors that contribute to health disparities in the LGBT community.’
4. Recognize Innovations Impacting the LGBTQIA+ Community
Despite the existing inequalities in the LGBTQIA+ community around healthcare, there are some innovative groups and companies making gains in this area. These include:
LVNDR is pioneering an exciting new approach to more personalized and inclusive healthcare, which will integrate with existing healthcare services.
KALDA is working on a smartphone application that centers around the mental health and well-being of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Another innovative approach to healthcare that has arisen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is telemedicine. Telemedicine has improved healthcare for the LGBTQIA+ community in three ways:
Expands geographic access to healthcare for the 20% of LGBTQIA+ community who live in rural areas.
Connects the LGBTQIA+ community with healthcare professionals while reducing the risk of negative interactions and discriminatory healthcare practices.
Makes healthcare more accessible to younger members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
5. Improve Ourselves
Improving our understanding of the LGBTQIA+ community and the health issues they face is one way that all medical and healthcare professionals can improve the lives of the LGBTQIA+ community. Regardless of whether you identify as LGBTQIA+ yourself or you just want to understand LGBTQIA+ needs, there are some easy steps that you can take.
Below are three LGBTQIA+ community resources every healthcare professional should read:
Challenging the default, an NHS Employers blog written by Dr. Michael Brady.
Why pronouns matter, an NHS Confed blog by Dr. Jamie Willo.
7 ways you can be an LGBTQ ally at work, an article from Stonewall.
Promote Inclusivity and Understanding
It’s pretty clear that as healthcare professionals, there’s a lot more that we need to do to better serve the LGBTQIA+ communities’ healthcare needs. Understanding and creating an environment where LGBTQIA+ people feel safe accessing the healthcare services they need is at the core of this issue.
While we’ve come a long way in the last decade, we still have a long way to go.
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