Navigating the health care system can be intimidating for LGBTQ+ patients, who are often met with silence, discomfort, and discrimination. Something as simple as finding a doctor who accepts them, talks openly with them, and is knowledgeable about the care they need can be difficult. Patients who’ve been mistreated in the past go into a new provider’s office looking for signs that they’re welcome.
Here are some ways you can create a safe space for LGBTQ+ patients. Print the checklist below to share with office staff.
In the Waiting Room
- Friendly staff who’s ready to assist LGBTQ+ patients and welcome transgender patients without hesitation.
- Forms that use gender-neutral language, such as “partner” or “parent,” and include a space for preferred name and pronouns.
- Magazines and brochures that may be of interest to LGBTQ+ patients.
- Rainbow flags, pins, or other signs of support in visible locations.
During the Exam
- Ask whether your patient has a preferred name and/or pronouns and use them.
- Go beyond the chief complaint to find the root cause of symptoms.
- Build trust by listening to the patient’s individual experience. Don’t make assumptions based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.
- Help patients understand what information they share with you is confidential. If information is shared, make sure they know who it will be shared with and how.
- Proactively ask about gender identity and sexual orientation. Be prepared to talk about it or to respect a patient’s desire not to talk about it. Remember to use gender-neutral language.
- Affirm that being LGBTQ+ is perfectly healthy.
- Ask about safety. Is your patient safe at home? At work or school? Are they experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide?
- Be prepared to answer questions. Have information available and be ready to explain it. Research and follow up on questions that are new to you.
- For adolescent patients, work with family members to build understanding and support at home.
- Have referrals ready for services, such as counseling or gender reassignment surgery, that you can’t or don’t provide.
Outside the Office
- Honestly reflect on your unconscious biases, perceptions, or fears that may be affecting the care you provide.
- Take Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses about issues facing the LGBTQ+ community.
- Learn about social determinants of health, such as discrimination, rejection by family, and unstable housing, that contribute to health disparities for LGBTQ+ patients.
- Learn about the needs of transgender patients, which can vary greatly.
- Get involved with advocacy and support groups for the LGBTQ+ community.
- Attend your local Pride parade.