Why You Should Come Out to Your Doctor

People who are LGBT have unique medical needs
Why You Should Come Out to Your Doctor

If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), does your doctor know? If you are like most members of the LGBT community, it’s likely you haven’t told your physician.

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Surveys consistently show that many lesbian, gay and bisexual patients aren’t open about their sexual orientation with their healthcare providers, the Human Rights Campaign reports. Many LGBT patients fear being judged or discriminated against — and with good reason. National research has shown that because of stigmatization, LGBT patients are at increased risk for substandard, insensitive or even abusive medical care.

You may worry about feeling embarrassment or may fear rejection in revealing your sexual orientation to your doctor. Perhaps you’re concerned that the staff or insurance providers won’t protect your confidentiality. Or you anticipate a hostile response from the front desk, nurses or other staff members if you need to talk about deeply personal matters.

But there are compelling reasons why you should tell your healthcare provider if you are LGBT. First and foremost, the basis of an effective doctor-patient relationship is honesty, says James Hekman, MD, an internal medicine physician who specializes in LGBT health.

“The health care team that treats and takes care of you can give you the best, most personalized care only if they know about your unique qualities, including sexual orientation or gender identity,” Dr. Hekman says.

By knowing your LGBT status, your physician can offer referrals to specialists, like behavioral healthcare providers or wellness providers, who are welcoming to LGBT people, Dr. Hekman says.

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Unique health care needs

LGBT patients have unique health needs. People who are LGBT are at increased risk for a number of health threats that heterosexual people do not face, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. While differences in sexual behavior account for some of these disparities, social and structural inequities, such as the stigma and discrimination that LGBT populations experience, are the cause of others.

For example, national research has shown that:

  • LGBT people are more likely to be dependent on alcohol, tobacco or drugs.
  • Gay men and transgender patients are at higher risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
  • Lesbian women are more likely to be overweight and less likely to have regular cancer screenings.
  • LGBT youth are more likely to experience significant mental health problems, have a higher risk of suicide, engage in risky behaviors and become the victims of violence.
  • Older LGBT adults are at risk for poor social support due to stigma and discrimination.

Your sexual health is important too — as it is for everyone. You should feel free to ask your physician questions and have frank discussions, Dr. Hekman says.

If you think your current health care provider would not be comfortable treating you as a LGBT patient, Dr. Hekman recommends that you consider finding another provider who can address your individual health care needs and provide you with the best diagnosis and treatments.

One solution may be to search for a health care provider who has a specific, stated interest in and commitment to working with the LGBT community.  You might begin your search by asking for referrals from friends, reviewing hospital LGBT web pages or contacting a local LGBT center.

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When you call to schedule an appointment, ask if the practice has any LGBT patients. If you’re nervous about asking, keep in mind that you don’t have to give your name during that initial call.

At the appointment, bring up the subject when you feel the time is right. Or ask your doctor for a few minutes to chat while you’re still fully clothed or before you go in the exam room.


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