Sobering LGBT Healthcare Realities

A new report reveals gays and lesbians receive inadequate healthcare

Gay rights may be making more in-roads when it comes to legislative protection and even marriage equality around the country, but the state of LGBT healthcare is grim, says a new report released this week from the Institute of Medicine called “The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding.”

According to new findings – sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – LGBT healthcare is seriously underdeveloped due, in part, to a lack of research and federally funded surveys among gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people in the U.S. This scarcity of research provides an incomplete picture when it comes to the health needs, risks and other dangers among this community.

“While LGBT populations often are combined as a single entity for research and advocacy purposes,” says the report, “each is a distinct population group with its own specific health needs.”

The report goes on to suggest that experiences of LGBT individuals are not uniform. Instead, they are shaped by race, ethnicity, gender, geography, age and socio-ecomomic status. “Researchers still have a great deal to learn and face a number of challenges in understanding the health needs of LGBT populations,” it says.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius made a statement this week about the report, saying that more needs to be done on a federal level to improve LGBT healthcare. “The report is an important step in identifying research gaps and opportunities,” she says, “as part of an overall effort to understand and address the health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

There is a bright side, however. In newly assessing the state of science – however lacking – for the LGBT population, the report also identifies research gaps and new opportunities that would help healthcare providers to better understand the needs of this underserved group. The NIH is recommending training opportunities with LGBT populations. Training should engage researchers who are not specifically studying LGBT health issues, as well as those who are, says the NIH. The agency also recommends using its policy on the inclusion of women and racial and ethnic minorities in clinical research as a model to encourage grant applicants to include sexual and gender minorities.

“It’s easy to assume that because we are all humans, gender, race, or other characteristics of study participants shouldn’t matter in health research, but they certainly do,” said committee chair Robert Graham, professor of family medicine and public health sciences and Robert and Myfanwy Smith Chair, department of family medicine, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “It was only when researchers made deliberate efforts to engage women and racial and ethnic minorities in studies that we discovered differences in how some diseases occur in and affect specific populations. We should strive for the same attention to and engagement of sexual and gender minorities in health research.”

You can read the full report here.