July 13, 2007 Focus on LGBT health
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July 13, 2007

Focus on LGBT health

Too often, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals face disparities in health care services. Through an initiative by the Diversity Steering Committee, MGHers recently had the opportunity to hear from Stewart Landers, senior consultant with John Snow, Inc., a public health research and consulting firm. Landers' topic, "Why Everyone Should Care about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health," addressed the issue of health care disparities in the sexual minority community.

Landers discussed the study of LGBT health in America and pointed to the major areas of disparities: mental health, substance use and sexually transmitted diseases. Sometimes, according to Landers, society's negative response to alternative sexualities leads to self-image and self-esteem issues among those in the LGBT population. This in turn can influence choices regarding sexual behavior and substance abuse and can put LGBT people at significantly higher risk for mental health disorders such as depression and suicide.

Issues of health care access also were addressed. Landers cited surveys that found that some patients choose not to be open about their sexuality with their health care providers. He also said statistics show that many hospitals do not have policies in place that allow visitation rights to same-sex couples.

Said Landers, "Understanding more about how disparities impact the care these groups receive and targeting services to address these outcomes will help not only LGBT individuals, but the patient population in general."

Deborah Washington, RN, MS, PhDc, director of Diversity for MGH Patient Care Services, remarked on the application of these lessons to clinical practice. "Communicating openly with patients is one of the surest paths to eliminating disparities in care," said Washington.

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