It's becoming common knowledge that LGBT folks avoid seeking medical care for fear of discrimination, among other reasons. Now a study is suggesting that when LGBT patients do go to the doctor, the physician they see isn't often trained to meet his or her needs.
According to researchers at UCLA, a startlingly low number of academic medical practices identify "LGBT competent" physicians, much less make an effort to connect them with LGBT patients.
What makes a physician "LGBT competent"? It generally means he or she has received special training in how to respectfully interact with an LGBT patient, take a proper medical and sexual history, perform “comprehensive” physical exams, be particularly supportive with psychosocial or behavioral issues (as LGBT individuals have a higher chance of mental disorders), and develop appropriate recommendations.
In the study, researchers sent a survey to all 138 academic faculty practices in the U.S. accredited by the Liason Committee on Medical Education—and among the half that responded, a mere 9 percent had systems in place to connect LGBT patients with physicians suited to meet their needs. Four percent took steps to create a procedure to identify LGBT-competent physicians in the first place. And 15 percent kept a database of physicians who specialize in LGBT-specific health issues.
Considering over 3 percent of the U.S. population identifies as LGBT, this seems like a pretty big oversight.
"The data demonstrates a paucity of procedures and policies to identify LGBT-competent physicians for patients and reveals that a majority of institutions are without any LGBT health training for their physicians," Joshua Khalili, one of the study's authors and a fourth-year medical student, said in a statement.
"Most participants said they had never thought about having procedures or policies to identify LGBT-competent physicians, and some questioned the necessity for facilitating patient access to LGBT-competent health care,” Khalili said.
The survey also found that while 32 percent of physicians had some LGBT training, 52 percent had no training at all—and only 16 percent of medical centers offered comprehensive LGBT training.
Still, 80 percent of the respondents said they were interested in creating policies to better serve LGBT patients. And since the survey originally went out in 2012, the researchers have begun work on a second study, and the early results sound promising.
"Preliminary findings from this follow-up study lead us to anticipate a significant increase in procedures and training," Allison Diamant, the study's senior author and an adjunct professor of medicine, said in a statement. Good news for everyone.