Today’s medical institutions are aiming to provide care as efficiently as possible.
The importance of this is undeniable. However, in the fast-paced, technical environment of many modern practices, expedited care is sometimes at the expense of a patient’s dignity. For the LGBTQ community, this can make the process of seeking medical care a distressing and stigmatizing experience. For example, in a 2017 survey fielded by the College of American Pathologists, 29% of transgender people reported that they had been denied care because of their perceived gender identities.
In order to help practitioners better incorporate LGBTQ inclusivity into their workplaces, the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association held the “Transforming Healthcare to Be Inclusive of LGBTQ Patients” conference last month. The conference, hosted at the MHA Conference Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, showcased a variety of keynote speakers and panelists—LGBTQ Health experts from institutions like Boston Medical Center, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and Partners Healthcare.
In their presentations, the speakers outlined the most significant care disparities that LGBTQ patients face, the actions practitioners can take to reduce these disparities, and the strategies institutions can employ to merge respectful practice standards with preexisting rulesets. Pothik Chatterjee, the conference’s organizer, opening keynote speaker, and panel moderator, says, “We are very fortunate to have such a diverse range of expert viewpoints from community health, to pioneering in transgender care and the importance of leveraging electronic medical records to capturing sexual orientation and gender identity.”
One of the most significant challenges discussed at the conference was the respectful treatment of transgender patients in medicine, and how unfortunately, both health systems and staff can repeatedly misidentify a patient’s gender during treatment. In a perfect world, this problem would have a very easy fix: simply providing a field in health records for patients to write in their correct names and pronouns, and then requiring staff to think of and address patients by the record. However, the majority of institutions presently have not/do not have the resources to put these practices in place. “Educating Primary Care about the needs of Trans Men and Women are key to improving patient experience and improving quality and outcomes,” says Chatterjee. “Education leads to greater awareness and lesser likelihood of discrimination, which is a major issue, as discrimination often leads transgender patients to avoid seeking care.”
One solution to these issues is to institute care centers specifically for trans children and adults: an idea that Boston Medical Center has been prominent in implementing. Another is the development of official networks to educate medical providers, especially those specializing in primary care, about what is correct, respectful conduct when working with trans patients. These would advocate for a separation of an individual’s designated sex at birth and gender identity in files and in office visits, and an elimination of misgendering in professional settings.
So far, conferences and programs like the Transforming Healthcare conference have been making an incredible, tangible impact on the medical community. “I have been heartened that some members are already trying to implement some policies and toolkits that I shared at the conference at their institutions,” Chatterjee says. “Specifically, they are planning to create their own ‘Gender Identity & Expression Policy and Toolkit’ to help support transgender employees that are going through the transitioning process and provide online toolkits to support both the employee and their manager.” Other attendees asked how they could make signs and pamphlets more diverse and LGBTQ friendly, institute gender-neutral bathrooms, and set up their own LGBTQ provider referral directories. “One of the most valuable and heartwarming experiences of speaking at programs like MHA is the opportunity to interact directly with hospital leaders and administrators who care passionately about providing quality care to all patients,” Chatterjee says.
Despite the impact programs like the Transforming Healthcare conference have made, healthcare systems, as well as societal systems in general, still have a long way to go before LGBTQ people can be free from systemic prejudice. In November, for example, the Public Accommodations Bill is being voted on, a bill that, if waived, will no longer protect trans people in public spaces. “Many people think of bathrooms but do not realize that hospitals and health care facilities also constitute ‘public spaces,” says Chatterjee. “It is vital that the Public Accommodations Act remains in place to provide basic protections of civil liberties for the transgender community and allows them to receive the care that they need without fear of harassment and discrimination.”
Above all, the Transforming Healthcare to Be Inclusive of LGBTQ Patients conference emphasized the importance of diversity—of sharing one’s identity through the proud expression of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or economic background. “Our panel had a range of ethnic backgrounds – Asian, Latino, Caucasian and South Asian, adding to the tapestry of LGBTQ identities and intersectionality, adding richness and depth to the discussion,” says Chatterjee. “The more we get together and show up and share our experiences, we can drive change in a powerful way to improve the experience for LGBTQ patients.”
Resources for Providers, Organizations, and Practitioners:
Brigham & Women’s Hospital’s LGBT Welcoming Toolkit for Primary Care Providers
Partners Healthcare’s Toolkit for Gender Identity & Expression
Brigham’s LGBTQ Employee Resource Group Homepage (information on how to set up an LGBTQ provider directory)
Emily NcNeiece, a sophomore Publishing major at Emerson College, brings to MedTech a lifelong passion for the written word. As a current editor for Emerson’s Generic and Atlas magazines, and a reader for The Emerson Review, Emily loves engaging through text with the world around her. In her spare time, she enjoys cross-country running, short story writing, and watching just a bit too much TV.
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