I recently completed a qualitative study that examined the healthcare experiences of LBTQ women. Most of the women described experiences where their providers and/or nurses lacked knowledge about LGTQ specific care, used insensitive terminology, or had a discriminatory or prejudice attitude. The study reconfirmed what similar research has shown – more emphasis is needed on providing safe and welcoming healthcare environments for all LGBTQ individuals.
I asked all of the women in my study what they thought needs to be done to improve healthcare services for LGBTQ individuals. One of the women who lived in rural Oklahoma said that most healthcare providers and nurses want to provide the best care for their patients, and that few of them intentionally make their patients feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. Her response was very profound. As a society, I think there is phenomenon of wanting to “blame” someone or something for an error. The same holds true for the health and healthcare inequities of LGBTQ populations. Who should be held responsible for the uncomfortable and unwelcoming healthcare visits that the women in my study experienced?
I don’t think there is a simple answer to that question. We know that there are multiple factors at all levels of society (the person her/himself, communities, organizations, policies, etc.) that contribute to health and healthcare problems. So, how do we even begin to address the problem of uncomfortable and unwelcoming healthcare environments? Every woman in my study had the same answer – educate the providers and nurses. After all, the one woman said, they aren’t all intentionally making patients feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
I agree with the women in my study. All healthcare providers and professionals need to be educated to provide appropriate care for LGBTQ patients. And the education curricula and cultural competency programs exist to help accomplish this (see http://www.lgbthealtheducation.org/publications/lgbt-health-resources/). So, the question becomes, how do we ensure that providers and nurses use the resources that are available to them? It is going to require upstream interventions, meaning that governing bodies, accrediting agencies, and professional organizations pressure (or require!) providers and nurses to take continuing education courses on LGBTQ patients, and for nursing and medical schools to include LGBTQ content in their curriculum. Until that happens, I urge everyone to educate your colleagues and students about providing care to LGBTQ patients.
I am going to end this post with a YouTube video that was created by the cultural competence program, Reexamining LGBT Healthcare.