How can we improve health care access for LGBTQ individuals in America?

Doctors, nurses, administrators, lawmakers and voters should come together to make positive changes that transform medical spaces into inclusive environments for all patients.

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Image Credit: LGBTQ Nation

Health care is a complicated issue in America.  A lack of financial access and clinical resources for patients prevents them from maintaining their health. Still, people in the LGBTQ community face additional challenges related to their gender or sexual orientation.

These are a few ways to improve health care access for LGBTQ individuals in America. When everyone better understands what prevents people from receiving care, it will be easier to make an equitable system that improves lives.

1. We need to teach the correct terminology

Medical professionals and administrative teams at health care clinics need to know how to address patients correctly. Terminology like pronouns and terms related to gender identity or sexual orientation demonstrates thoughtfulness, compassion and a level of care that LGBTQ patients need to feel comfortable at their doctor’s office.

Updating a clinic or hospital’s terminology also means eliminating gendered language. Instead of referring to a patient’s husband, wife, mom or dad, health care professionals should use inclusive terms like “partner” or “parent.”

This change should happen for all in-person appointments, but correct terminology is also essential on marketing materials and clinic websites. They’ll broadcast a health care center’s inclusivity so LGBTQ individuals know where they can find help without fearing discrimination.

2. We should dismantle systemic discrimination

LGBTQ people are more likely to face harassment in their doctor’s office due to discrimination. This may happen due to someone not having enough education about LGBTQ issues. It also occurs when clinic employees prioritize their prejudice over their patient’s well-being.

After reaching out to doctors or needing emergency care, 57% of LGBTQ individuals endure slurs at health care facilities. Bigotry even affects those not old enough to identify as part of the LGBTQ community, like the infant turned away from a clinic because she had two moms. 

Educating employees and health care professionals is a significant way to improve access for LGBTQ individuals in America because information dismantles fear and hatred.

3. We must update essential paperwork

Intake forms should include more options for gender and sexual orientation identification. Traditional ones that only use “male” and “female” limit how doctors assess patient treatment because they can’t consider someone’s entire identity or history. Forms should also include space so people can record their sex assigned at birth, which may not match their gender orientation or current health care needs.

4. We have to open gendered services

Traditionally gendered medical services should expand their patient pool to include LGBTQ patients. OB-GYNs are an essential example of this. They may market their services toward cisgender women, but transgender men also require their services to maintain their personal and reproductive health. They need PAP smears, pregnancy services, clinical breast exams, menstrual care and contraceptive access as long as they haven’t had hysterectomies or mastectomies. 

When offices like OB-GYN clinics make it clear they accept LGBTQ patients, people within that community will have better health care access that’s identity and gender-confirming.

5. We should expand financial access

A recent study found that LGBTQ individuals are 31% more financially vulnerable than cisgender or straight people. This relates to many factors like workplace discrimination and hiring prejudices. Someone who doesn’t have enough money to afford a checkup or health care will not receive the services they need.

LGBTQ people may also be unable to afford mental health care, which is necessary in a world full of bigotry. Therapists could give them the tools and language to better understand themselves, but not if LGBTQ individuals can’t afford sessions.

Improved financial access to physical and mental health care is necessary in America. Lowering clinic costs and privatized health insurance prices are important steps in making a more equitable system.

6. We need to build more clinics

Many LGBTQ people needing inclusive doctors don’t live close enough to access health care. One study found that transgender people have to travel 25 miles or more away from their homes to access inclusive care. That distance means time away from work and more money put toward gas or bus tickets, another factor keeping LGBTQ people away from the help they need.

Building inclusive clinics and hospitals in rural communities or locations without inclusive care is vital in improving health care access for LGBTQ individuals in America. No one can get help if it doesn’t exist in their hometown. 

7. We have to change laws

Laws based on discrimination are voted on regularly. There are so many that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tracks them with weekly updates to provide the LGBTQ community with resources to understand what may or may not be available where they live.

When these laws pass, they disable harmful behaviors like:

  • Preventing transgender individuals from accessing gender-affirming care
  • Eliminating inclusive language in health care facilities
  • Allowing discrimination if someone cites a religious belief

Setting standards through laws that enforce inclusive care, language and health care accessibility will help LGBTQ people receive continual treatment no matter who they are or where they live.

8. We must mandate training

Anti-discrimination training for everyone at clinics and hospitals will ensure that personnel understand the importance of using correct pronouns and considering a person’s comprehensive history when making a diagnosis. Medical professionals will avoid assumptions that drive patients away or lead to discrimination perpetuating how LGBTQ people feel unsafe in their doctor’s office.

Improve health care access for LGBTQ individuals

Everyone plays a role in determining how we improve health care access for LGBTQ individuals in America. Doctors, nurses, administrators, lawmakers and voters should come together to make positive changes that transform medical spaces into inclusive environments for all patients.

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