Sure, your hospital probably has solutions in place to address any barriers preventing Latinos, the elderly or any other number of patient groups from getting the best possible care. But what about those who are lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender?
A patient's sexuality and gender identity can bring a whole new list of challenges to the bedside, far beyond just visitation rights. Hospital leaders would be wise to devise a strategy and stay ahead of those challenges, rather than waiting until they snowball into a lawsuit or low satisfaction survey score, Shane Snowdon, director of the LGBT Health & Aging Program for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, said during a webinar hosted by the Institute for Diversity in Health Management last week.
"Every patient has some concern going into the health care system; we're all a little anxious going to the hospital. But LGBT patients often have an extra layer of anxiety, just because they're LGBT," she said.
Snowdon pointed to one 2010 survey that found that about 28.5 of lesbians, gays and bisexuals believed that medical personnel would treat them differently because of their sexuality. Meanwhile, about 73 percent of transgender individuals — defined as those who identify with and are transitioning to a gender other than the one on their birth certificate — believe they'd be treated different.
That same survey (When Health Care Isn't Caring, by Lambda Legal) found that 56 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual patients and 70 percent of transgender patients reported at least one instance of being treated poorly in a health care setting. Those cases included being blamed for their health condition, staff reluctance to touch them, harsh language or even physical roughness during examinations. The survey numbers were even higher for patients who reported to be LGBT as well as an ethnic minority and/or earning a lower income.
Health care providers should pay special attention to transgender patients, Snowdon said, who have been subject to an even longer list of unpleasant experiences, from confidentiality violations, to unnecessary questions and exams, or being denied bathroom use.
"One transgender patient, one transgender employee can bring a health care organization to a screeching halt as people try to figure out 'Whoa, what is the right thing to do here? How do we not do the wrong thing? And now that we've done the wrong thing, how do we make it right?' " Snowdon said.
So what can hospitals do to make sure they're treating LGBT patients and employees just the same as everyone else? There's a wealth of resources out there, Snowdon points out. For starters, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has a Health Care Equity Index that hospitals can follow to gauge their efforts. It offers four core requirements: adopting an LGBT-inclusive visitation policy, both patient and employee nondiscrimination policies, and training employees to be prepared for the unique circumstances that might arise. The Joint Commission also has a field guide on LGBT issues, and the Institute of Medicine issued a report back in 2011. There have been a handful of headlines on this topic recently, too, including the UC Davis Health System recently becoming the first academic health system in the country to include sexual orientation as a field in its electronic health record.
What's your hospital doing to better serve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.