‘Pride’ in improved awareness of LGBTQ needs and health professional training

By Dennis Archambault

As the nation commemorates Pride Month, it is reassuring that the health disparities among people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender have received significant attention from policymakers in the last several years, according to “Addressing Health Care Disparities in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Population: A Review of Best Practices,” published in the American Journal of Nursing. The article notes that health care disparities affecting this population are closely tied to the sexual and social stigma that lingers to this day.  This has resulted in social determinants that affect the health of LGBTQ  (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning) people, including legal discrimination regarding access to health insurance, a lack of appropriate social programs, and a shortage of providers who are culturally competent in and knowledgeable about LGBTQ health.

Lindsay Toman, a 2017-18 Albert Schweitzer Fellow, studied disparities among people with reference to the quality of medical care they receive, and specifically the preparation of medical students to care for this population. Through her research, Toman learned that various groups that comprise the LGBTQ community have health risks that are unique to their specific groups. They include:

  • Lesbians are at higher risk of dealing with obesity, breast cancer, and polycystic ovarian syndrome than heterosexual women.
  • Gay and bisexual men are at a greater risk of developing anal cancer in comparison to heterosexual men.
  • Bisexual women are more likely to smoke cigarettes, binge drink, report more depressive symptoms, and are less likely to have health insurance.
  • The group that experiences some of the most significant health disparities is the transgender community. Transgender women make up the most highly impacted group in the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Toman learned that at the time of her Fellowship only 3.5 hours was devoted to LGBTQ health-related topics over a four-year period in medical schools throughout the United States, and there were only two medical school curriculums created that specifically pertain to LGBTQ health disparities. Little or no information was provided about the transgender community, and less than 20 percent of health providers provide medical information to LGBTQ patients related to their sexual behaviors. “Consequently, physicians are ill-prepared to provide appropriate healthcare to their LGBTQ patients. As a result, LGBTQ patients are not only neglected but also experience harassment and abuse from medical professionals.”

Pride Month offers health organizations an opportunity to focus on how well they are addressing the health disparities affecting the LGBTQ population and how well we are training health professionals to address them.

Dennis Archambault is Vice President of Public Affairs for Authority Health.