What You Need to Know About LGBT Health

Trends, prevention and how to come out to your doctor

Photo by Think Stock

“LGBT health issues are not all that different from the average patient’s. Lack of access to affordable health care is a major factor,” says Dr. Seth Kaufer of Hahnemann University Hospital in Center City. The out doc shares some serious facts about LGBT health issues and how patients can be better informed about everything from home HIV tests to coming out to your doctor.

Truth vs. Fiction

Not only do docs take oaths to treat everyone, but an open and honest doctor-patient relationship can help everyone make smarter, more informed health-care decisions. “In my experience,” says Kaufer, “the overwhelming majority of physicians have no bias whatsoever when treating patients. Having said that, though, since I have been featured in publications as an openly gay doctor, I have had a surge of LGBT patients making appointments who have confided that they feared discrimination. Obviously this disconnect serves as a huge barrier to LGBT health care.”

3 Biggest Health Issues

HIV treatments: Meds allow people to live longer, healthier lives. And testing can be done in a few minutes—there’s even a new HIV home test.

Barriers to care: People who face discrimination can be estranged from their families and health-care options. LGBT patients also face the added stress of coming out.

Transgender realities: As men and women make transitions, more is being learned about how the process affects long-term physical and mental health.

Myth-Busting 101

No, it’s not all about sex. LGBT patients need to find a good primary-care physician they can trust and can have a lasting relationship with to address overall health maintenance.

No, HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence. Positive patients are living longer thanks to new treatment regimens, and physicians are treating it more as a chronic and manageable disease, like diabetes or high blood pressure.

2 Tips for Overall Prevention

Be honest. Talk to your health-care provider about your lifestyle, including drug use and sexual practices, and give him or her a detailed personal and family health history.

Get screened. Certain screenings and immunizations are unique to LGBT patients. Gardasil—the vaccine that greatly reduces the risk of developing HPV-related cervical, penile and anal cancers—is now approved for all patients 26 and younger (male, female, gay and straight).

3 Facts About HIV and AIDS

Fact: Black men who have sex with other men are at higher risk than men in other groups for contracting HIV and AIDS.

Fact: Gay and bisexual men account for an estimated two percent of the U.S. population but contracted 50 percent of all new HIV infections from 2006 to 2009.*

Fact: Free rapid testing is available daily at locations throughout the region, including Washington West Project, Mazzoni Center and GALAEI.

5 Tips for Coming Out to Your Doctor
(Courtesy of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association)

Ask for referrals. Find out who your friends are seeing, and check the listings at glma.org.

Make a phone call. Before you make an appointment, call and ask if the doctor treats any LGBT patients.

Bring a friend. If you’re nervous about coming out, take a buddy for support.

Be honest. Make the time to come out before, during or after an examination—preferably with your clothes on.

Know what to ask. Learn about the health issues for which you’re most at risk.

Dusty Latimer, a certified physician assistant at the Mazzoni Center, contributed to this article.