Prioritizing the health needs of the LGBTQ+ community

It’s no secret that this past year has completely altered our daily lives and put a significant strain on the healthcare system. The pandemic has affected everyone at a deep, personal level. It has also highlighted the vast inequalities that exist in our healthcare system, which have a significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community.

Even before the pandemic, finding a culturally competent and inclusive healthcare provider proved to be a challenge for many in the LGBTQ+ community. Whether it be finding a doctor who remembers to use a patient’s correct pronouns or having a provider who fully understands why people might take PrEP, thousands of LGBTQ+ people throughout the country have experienced feeling uncomfortable or unaccepted by their healthcare provider. Recent data we’ve gathered show that 40% of LGBTQ+ members have been discriminated against during their healthcare journey, and 35% are actively postponing care today because of that. These numbers are staggering, and as we work to overcome the pandemic, it is an ideal time to focus on prioritizing the healthcare needs of the LGBTQ+ community.

Covid-related health inequalities among the LGBTQ+ community
Overall, the LGBTQ+ community is more at risk to severe effects of Covid-19 due to underlying discrimination and lack of access to healthcare. Many people in the LGBTQ+ community are putting off care due to discrimination or not feeling comfortable in being themselves in the doctor’s office. As such, those in the community are more susceptible to severe Covid-19 outcomes as they are not routinely keeping up with their healthcare and are subsequently dealing with unmanaged healthcare needs – i.e., not regularly attending check-ups or hesitating going to the doctor’s office if they are experiencing severe Covid-19 symptoms.

Additionally, the difficulties in finding a culturally competent healthcare provider fuel a sense of distrust in the healthcare system among the community, which may cause reluctance in taking and trusting the Covid-19 vaccine for some members of the LGBTQ+ community. Data show that some in the community are hesitant to take the Covid-19 vaccine – and because LGBTQ+ people are already more susceptible to severe disease outcomes, this hesitancy just widens the gap in care as it relates to the pandemic.

Not only is the community at a higher risk of severe Covid-19 outcomes, but LGBTQ+ people are also suffering from mental health issues associated with social isolation. This community already disproportionately faced mental health issues before the pandemic, and it’s clear that challenges stemming from social isolation have affected us all. However, social isolation has hit LGBTQ+ people especially hard. As the pandemic has forced us to stay home and not attend social events, many people who do not have the benefit of a supportive birth family have not been able to spend time with their chosen family – i.e., those who are the most accepting and with whom they are most comfortable. Unfortunately, some LGBTQ+ people who may not have the benefit of family support might have also had to move home with those family members during this time – which negatively affects overall mental health. Additionally, moving to a different location during the pandemic is already a difficult transition, but it has also required many people to seek new healthcare providers in the area, with the hope that they are culturally competent.

Impact on overall health outcomes

The pandemic has truly exacerbated healthcare issues that the LGBTQ+ community has always experienced. Many who have faced discrimination or discomfort during their healthcare journey have actively postponed doctor’s appointments, which causes their needs to go unmanaged and leads to worse overall health outcomes. These declining health outcomes also eventually lead to greater costs down the line.

As such, we need to focus on improving preventive care among the LGBTQ+ community. Patient navigation has already proven to play a significant role in this initiative of building overall trust in the healthcare system among the LGBTQ+ community, as it helps those in underserved populations with their unique health needs.

As we celebrate PRIDE Month, the healthcare community should use this time as an inspiration to celebrate this community and prioritize LGBTQ+ health. Not just this month, but for months and years to come.

Photo credit: bojanstory, Getty Images