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    5 ways to let LGBTQ patients know that respect awaits them at your office

    Working near New York City, Tochi Iroku-Malize, MD, MPH, MBA, the chair of family medicine for Northwell Health, cares for many patients in the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexual or asexual) community. She has given serious thought and effort into making each one of these patients feel accepted, valued and welcomed in her practice.

    “People in this special population of patients may feel that the healthcare system, including providers and institutions, is not up to recognizing their culture or their needs,” she says.

    Research supports that feeling. A large literature supports the finding that people who depart from traditional heterosexual norms feel disrespected and marginalized in healthcare settings. The literature also shows that these patients do in fact receive poorer quality care than people who fit prevailing norms.

    Stigma leads to avoidance of healthcare encounters, the research has found, and such avoidance of primary care takes its toll.

    “When patients feel there is stigma, this can increase depression among them,” says Iroku-Malize. “The patients, especially the youth among them, are at increased risk of both depression and suicide.” If patients sense that there is stigma against them, that can also lead to increased substance abuse, in terms of alcohol, smoking, and other drugs, all of which leads to more long-term chronic illness, explains Iroku-Malize.

    Physicians do not have to become experts in caring for patients in this population, says Iroku-Malize. “You just need to be aware of this population and get the basics of how to approach the patient.”

    Here are five ways Iroku-Malize suggests physicians can make clear that LBGTQIA patients will be treated with the same respect and high-quality care any other patients receive.  (Note: Many LBGTQIA people also use “queer” as an umbrella term for the entire group, and in the rest of this article that will be the term used.)

    Next: Deal swiftly with the issue of how to address the patient

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