Going to the doctor, emergency room, or hospital can be scary and stressful for anyone. You might be in pain and desperate for relief. Or scared because you don’t know what’s wrong. Or worried about a procedure or surgery.
If you’re LGBTQ+, more fears and stressors pile on top of that. Will the staff judge you? Might they treat you differently for who you are? Will they ask you invasive or inappropriate personal questions? Will they be unhelpful because they don’t understand your unique health needs?
These fears are real. In a study by Lambda Legal, 56% of LGBTQ+ people said a healthcare provider had discriminated against them. Seventy percent of transgender and gender non-conforming people said the same. They said their provider or staff discriminated against in at least one of these ways:
- Refused needed care
- Were physically rough or abusive
- Used harsh or abusive language
- Refused to touch them
- Blamed them for their health status
UVA Health: A Leader in LGBTQ+ Health Equity
To combat these problems, the Human Rights Commission created the Healthcare Equality Index. It rates healthcare facilities on their fair and inclusive care for LGBTQ+ patients.
The HRC named three UVA Health hospitals “Healthcare Equity Leaders,” their highest rating. These are UVA Medical Center, UVA Prince William Medical Center, and UVA Haymarket Medical Center.
Bush Bell, patient experience officer at UVA Health, names equity for LGBTQ+ patients and staff as a key priority for the hospitals.
“Providing LGBTQ-affirming care is core to our values, mission, and vision,” he says. “We cannot achieve one without the other.”
To that end, Bell is clear about what the award means and how much further there is to go.
“We’ve taken many steps to create an environment where team members can deliver the best care,” he explains. “We know we make mistakes and there is more we can do to achieve the goal of 100% outstanding care for our LGBTQ+ patients. We have not stopped our efforts to meet more than the minimum standards.”
Making a Meaningful Difference in LGBTQ+ Health
So how is UVA Health making a meaningful difference for our LGBTQ+ patients and team members?
Here’s a summary of the changes we’ve made that have the biggest impact.
We record patients’ pronouns, sexual orientation, gender identity, and preferred names. This helps caregivers address you in an affirming way and tailor care to your individual needs.
We require all team members to complete trainings in providing compassionate care to LGBTQ+ patients. It includes recording sexual orientation and gender identity in patients’ medical records.
UVA Health has the only gender care program on the East Coast that offers all of these services:
- Primary and endocrine care for adolescents and adults
- Social work and psychology support
- Gender-affirming surgery, including top and bottom, facial, and vocal surgeries
- Speech and voice therapy
We created 3 key committees:
- The Trans and LGBTQ Advisory Committee focuses on health system policy.
- The Gender Health Committee brings together caregivers who treat transgender patients.
- The Community Advisory Group includes members of the LGBTQ+ community. They provide feedback on healthcare experiences and needs.
UVA Health’s team member health insurance covers gender-affirming medical therapies. That includes surgeries for themselves and family members on the plan.
The Work Ahead
More work to improve care for LGBTQ+ patients is underway at UVA Health, Bell says.
The team is working to “hardwire” preferred names and pronouns in the medical records. That way, “information is available in all the right places and team members have easy access to it as they interact with patients,” assures Bell.
Our three committees also continue planning ways to “better integrate and coordinate care for LGBTQ+ patients,” he notes.