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GP practices must create ‘accepting atmosphere’ for LGBT patients

by Valeria Fiore
30 January 2018

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Practices should adopt a few changes to create an ‘accepting atmosphere’ and improve health outcomes in LGBT patients, a study published today in the British Journal of General Practice has suggested.

In their study, researchers said that sometimes only inexpensive changes are needed, such as ‘displaying signs or symbols that convey an accepting atmosphere, such as a rainbow symbol or the Human Rights Campaign logo’.

In Sexual orientation disclosure in health care: a systematic review, researchers came to these conclusions after they reviewed international literature of over 30 research studies involving almost 2500 patients.

The study said: ‘It is important to ensure that any healthcare setting changes are congruent with the beliefs of the healthcare professional working within them.

‘A key intervention is the production of patient information leaflets that are accepting of the LGBT community and that consider the differing needs of LGBT individuals compared with heterosexual individuals, providing LGBT specific information when necessary.’

Lack of confidence

Many of the problems LGBT individuals face today can be connected to the inadequate teaching about the healthcare of this group that undergraduates received during their medical education, according to the researchers.

One study they reviewed showed that medical students in the UK ‘lack confidence in the use of LGBT-specific health terms and their ability to locate LGBT specific health information.’

They therefore recommended that all healthcare professionals are careful when talking with LGBT individuals, by avoiding ‘heteronormative phrases and assumptions, as well as those that may be inhibiting their patients’ ability to disclose.’

For instance, they suggested that doctors could refer to a patient’s partner as ‘he’ or ‘she’, instead of asking directly if they are male or female.

The Royal College of General Practice (RCGP) said that, although patients are not obliged to declare their sexual orientation, knowing as much as possible about a patient can help improve health outcomes.

Providing a ‘safe space’

Commenting on the study, vice chair of the RCGP professor Kamila Hawthorne said: ‘[LGBT patients] should be reassured that anything they discuss with their GP is strictly confidential, and that the consultation room is safe space to talk about things which could be affecting their health and wellbeing. 

‘It’s always helpful to know as much as possible about the patient in front of us when making a diagnosis and developing a treatment plan, and that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.’