One fact rings true throughout healthcare and research—when patients feel comfortable, communication and rapport between them and their provider improves. When patients receive the attention and respect they deserve, the care they receive has greater benefits.
Being an ally in healthcare and research means learning about and providing culturally competent care to patients. This means that clients, providers, and caregivers need to include more incentives to learn about LGBTQ+ individuals, their experiences, and the challenges they often face.
There are small but important everyday changes everyone can make in order to better serve LGBTQ+ patients. These small changes bring about huge benefits to patient retention, improved treatment adherence and compliance, and increased patient satisfaction.
Below, we highlight some important ways to care for LGBTQ+ patients.
1. Make the commitment
The first step in becoming an effective LGBTQ+ ally is the most critical, which is fully committing to allyship. Rather than researching “what makes a good ally,” however, it’s important instead to think about qualities that allies possess.
- Wanting to learn—no one can truly know everything about the LGBTQ+ issues, experiences, or allyship, but it’s always okay to have a desire to understand.
- Addressing self-imposed barriers—it is challenging for allies to continually remain aware of any internal biases that may be affecting the quality of their care, but they are willing to take it on as a necessary challenge.
- Acknowledging that support comes in different forms—publicly or personally, the language, conversations, and signals we choose all deserve equal value and consideration.
- Knowing there’s not “one way” to be an ally—the term “allyship” means something different to everyone, and that diversity is encouraged.
2. Become familiar with the facts and the language.
Learning is the foundation of allyship, and positive health outcomes for LGBTQ+ patients start with providing culturally competent care. This means that brushing up on the facts regarding healthcare disparities in the LGBTQ+ community is paramount.
Human Rights Watch notes that LGBTQ+ populations across the US experience significant healthcare barriers. It can be extremely difficult for these individuals to find providers or insurers who are knowledgeable about their needs, or who enforce non-discrimination policies. LGBTQ+ individuals may even delay care due to fear of mistreatment. Throughout the past few years, there has been little federal legislation that aids LGBTQ+ individuals.
Simply put, these individuals are often left in the dark when it comes to receiving safe and trusted healthcare. However, the legal landscape is constantly changing, and organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provide resources for LGBTQ+ individuals to learn about their rights.
Learning doesn’t just involve facts; it also involves language. LGBTQ+ patients use a variety of language and descriptors to describe themselves. Language constantly evolves. It’s helpful to continually refresh understanding of terminology quickly and comfortably.
A large part of learning the language is asking the right questions. For instance, questionnaires in a healthcare setting often ask background questions in order to get to know the patient and their medical history better. Including answer options for LGBTQ+ individuals—or even the option to leave the question blank—can help make these questionnaires more inclusive. For instance, leaving space to ask patients about their personal gender pronouns can help them feel safer and more accepted in a medical setting.
Of course, no term list or questionnaire is exhaustive—only the individual has the power to label themselves.
3. Encourage learning in the workplace or office environment.
It’s certainly a good idea to have progressive and educational conversations regarding the LGBTQ+ community with your colleagues and superiors. However, providing resources, materials, and recommendations throughout your workplace or office can help anyone who is willing to learn about LGBTQ+ patients—not just the patients themselves.
4. Partner and connect with local health centers, programs, and clinics.
There are local and regional centers that focus on LGBTQ+ health within every city and town, whether it’s through a hospital, organization, or clinic. These entities are often successful in aiding LGBTQ+ individuals in their search for safe and inclusive healthcare options. There are ways for general healthcare and research practices to mirror their success.
5. Have a visible and updated inclusive policy.
An inclusive policy is an easy-to-spot support system for LGBTQ+ patients. Also known as a non-discrimination policy, this is a document or signage that states an organization will not discriminate based on:
- Sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity)
- National origin
- Genetic information (including family medical history)
Keeping an inclusive policy visible throughout an organization may help LGBTQ+ patients feel more accepted and comfortable. An inclusive policy may be posted in any location that receives a lot of traffic, whether in-person or online, such as a waiting room, office common area, patient rooms, patient informational documents, or a website.
PRA is committed to providing an inclusive environment that empowers all of our employees to realize their full potential. We believe in our collective power to make a positive impact on the lives of our patients, employees, and the communities in which we live and work.
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