Feeling safe and welcome in their doctor’s office is something that most Americans probably take for granted. Unfortunately, too many members of the GLBT community experience homophobic rejection, discrimination, and substandard care (intentional and unintentional) from health care providers. It’s important to understand why GLBT people are so wary of mainstream medicine; it’s even more important to provide them with high-quality health services, in a caring and open environment.
There are some simple things you can do to make your practice environment more welcoming and safe for your GLBT patients. Here are a few ideas about ways you can add or change intake and health-history form questions, as well as ways to improve provider-patient discussions.
- Intake forms should use the term “relationship status” instead of “marital status,” and should include options like “partnered.” When asking—on the form or verbally—about a patient’s significant other, use terms such as “partner” in addition to “spouse” and/or “husband/wife.”
- Adding a “transgender” option to the male/female check-boxes on your intake form can help capture better information about transgender patients. It will also give new transgender patients an immediate signal of acceptance.
- When talking to a GLBT patient about sexual or relationship partners, use gender-neutral language such as “partner(s)” or “significant other(s).”
- Ask open-ended questions, and avoid making assumptions about the gender of a patient’s partner(s) or about sexual behavior(s). Use the same language that a patient does to describe self, sexual partners, relationships, and identity.
- It is important to discuss sexual health issues openly with your patients. Non-judgmental questions about sexual practices and behaviors are more important than asking about sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Link to GLMA form information here
Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, “Guidelines for Care of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Patients,” January 2006.