If health care providers have to keep conversations confidential, then why are so many of us nervous to bring up the subjects we most need to talk about?
Callen-Lorde is a global leader in LGBTQ healthcare. They provide sensitive, quality, hands-on assistance and services targeted to New York’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities regardless of an individual’s ability to pay. In addition to primary care, Callen-Lorde offers services in transgender health, mental health, a sexual health clinic, dental services, a pharmacy and even on-call providers. So when it came time to discuss the subject of being able to speak honestly with medical professionals, we turned to them.
Andrew Goodman, MD, Associate Director of Medicine at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center says, “LGBTQ patients should be able to openly discuss their sexual health and gender identity with healthcare providers in order to provide a full picture of their health, so all aspects of their personhood can be cared for. LGBTQ people deserve sensitive and respectful care.” When it comes to approaching difficult topics, Goodman recommends, “be direct and specific. Communicate your boundaries with your provider, and ultimately, remember that you have choices as a patient and you can choose to end an appointment if you feel you are not being treated respectfully.”
Taking care of yourself between doctor’s visits also plays an important role in your overall health and can help you be more forthright with your doctor. “Self care and self respect are very important,” Goodman adds. “All bodies need good nutrition, regular movement and quality sleep. Listen to your body as well, and if something doesn’t feel right, let a provider know.”
The National LGBT Health Education Center — which offers educational programs, resources and consultations to health care organizations — provides a useful program called “Do Ask, Do Tell: Talking to your Healthcare Provider about Being LGBT.” They also encourage transparency, noting: “There are many benefits to discussing your sexual function and behaviors with a provider.” They emphasize that coming out to your provider is important because many in the LGBTQ community face unique health risks that should be routinely addressed. Certain issues that they suggest discussing include screening for STDs and HIV, getting vaccinated for HPV and hepatitis A and B, using condoms, problems with sexual function or satisfaction, plans to adopt or conceive children, and even partner abuse.
GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality is the world’s largest and oldest association of LGBT healthcare professionals and has worked tirelessly to bring LGBT healthcare into the mainstream since 1981. GLMA offers an extensive list of providers and researchers on their website and a helpful list of “Ten Things Gay Men Should Discuss with Their Healthcare Provider.” This list includes similar recommendations to those of the National LGBT Health Education Center (above) — in addition to fitness, substance abuse, depression and cancer.
Still not sure about how to talk to your physician about certain topics? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention offers a wide range of answers to challenging questions and where to get free, fast and confidential testing. For example, in the NYC area, you might consider an organization like GMHC. GMHC, in addition to being one of the largest non-profit HIV/AIDS organizations in the United States, takes walk-ins and scheduled appointments for HIV and STD testing, community health and research, coordinated care, nutrition counseling, mental health, wellness and prevention services.
Though it’s essential to see your healthcare provider for regular check ups, if you are sexually active you should be tested for STIs and HIV more often than in conjunction with annual tests for levels like cholesterol and liver function — ideally, every three to six months.Even if you have not (to your knowledge) engaged in less safe sex practices, it’s important to know your status; it can give you peace of mind and — if you do test positive — helps ensure you’ll get the treatment you need as early as possible and that you don’t inadvertently expose others to HIV.
Everyone wants to feel comfortable and safe talking with their doctors. If you are dissatisfied or uncomfortable with your physician or other healthcare provider, there’s no shame in making a change. Remember: finding someone who helps you take better care of your health also helps you take better care of your community.
Find an LGBT doctor to start your health conversation in our resources guide.
Last modified: September 18, 2018