LGBTQIA+ Health Disparities: Definition and Description

Health disparities definition

June is global Pride month, when people of diverse nationalities and cultural backgrounds stand up and show support for the queer community. With a month-long opportunity to ramp up the recognition and appreciation for the LGBTQIA+ population, we combine a celebration of how far we’ve come with the sobering reality of how much more work there is to be done.

The fact is, in 2023, members of the queer community in the United States still continue to have health outcomes and access to healthcare at much lower levels than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are getting sicker and dying earlier as a result of flaws in processes and social forces perpetuated by the stigmatization of a vulnerable community.

Healthcare workers need to be educated and experienced in unique LGBTQIA+ care obstacles, and develop a health disparities definition that allows for better outcomes for everyone in their care. 

Understanding Health Disparities

Many populations experience health disparities with similar outcomes, but why and how they manifest can be quite different. A healthcare disparities definition must therefore be broad, and can be generally stated as any illness or injury that impacts some populations differently than others. These differences include availability and access to healthcare and how it is administered, resulting in poorer health outcomes personally, socially, economically, and physically. 

Issues that produce healthcare disparities arise from things like stigmatization and discrimination, unconscious bias, and a lack of understanding about community-specific risks. Whether intentional or not, they can cause patients to have negative experiences that foster distrust of the industry and encourage them to avoid seeking care. The result is that easily-treatable conditions may become serious, life-altering emergencies and chronic conditions that lower health and life expectancies for a particular demographic. 

Important areas of consideration where disparities often appear include:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Sexual health
  • Gender-affirming care
  • Domestic violence
  • Health in aging

Developing sensitivity and training protocols that help healthcare professionals understand biases and raise awareness of how health disparities are created can empower them to provide better and more meaningful services to all the patients they serve. 

Unique Challenges for the LGBTQIA+ Community

Every population has its own particular vulnerabilities to healthcare disparities, and the LBGTQIA+ community is no exception. There are several areas of service and care healthcare professionals should specifically consider when serving LGBTQIA+ patients. 

Behavioral and Mental Health

LGBTQIA+ people are at greater risk for a variety of mental health challenges that include mood disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders, and suicide or suicidal ideations. While mental health challenges already come with their own fair share of stigmatization and biases, adding on the potential for discrimination against the queer community can put LGBTQIA+ individuals under much greater pressures that negatively impact their health and wellbeing.

Physical Health

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are at greater risk for certain medical conditions. This, combined with the fact that LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to have a regular medical provider, are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions without support as they age, and are less likely to receive preventative healthcare, all contribute to worse overall outcomes than members of other populations. 

Access to Care

LGBTQIA+ individuals are often put at a disadvantage by experiencing reduced access to the care they need. They may face legal and politically-driven barriers to care created through discrimination, resulting in limitations in health coverage, housing, marriage, and benefit coverage.

Also, limited access to care may not be purely about getting to a medical provider, but about finding the right medical provider. A lack of culturally competent medical providers—like professionals  knowledgeable and skilled in managing the care of a transgender person, for example—can be overwhelming obstacles for getting the healthcare support they need. 

Minority Stress

The day-to-day experiences endured by a minority population can foster feelings of rejection, discrimination, and fear. This stress can break down coping mechanisms and resilience over time, leaving queer people expecting rejection and more prone to giving up when they need medical attention. 

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community may have justifiable distrust of, and resistance to, large institutions and health services, and recognizing that possibility and being ready to alleviate some of that distrust is a critical part of providing care. 

Addressing Disparities

The Importance of understanding the impact of health disparities on the LGBTQIA+ community is paramount to closing the gap. Yes, there are members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are also healthcare providers, but it’s not all up to them. Everyone can put forth meaningful effort supporting the queer community in pursuit of improved health outcomes.

Become an Ally

An ally to the LGBTQIA+  community is someone who educates themselves to support and advocate on behalf of the queer community. They lead by example, and provide trusted, empathetic support for their coworkers and patients to create positive energy around inclusivity that produces better outcomes. 

Be Ready to Listen

One of the most important gifts you can give any patient is a few extra minutes to learn where they’re coming from. Everybody’s experience with healthcare is different, and by taking the time to listen you can discover important cues and information about how you can provide them with the best, most supportive care possible that meets them where they are. 

The Right Resources

Not all healthcare providers are knowledgeable in managing certain medical needs experienced by members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and that’s ok! The important part is connecting a patient to medical providers who are best-suited for giving them the right care. By expanding resources and networks of experts in a variety of health fields, institutions can better manage the care and outcomes of a wider range of patients. 

For Combatting LGBTQIA+ Health Disparities, Definition is Only The Beginning

June is Pride month, providing an excellent opportunity to talk about the significance of health disparities experienced by the LGBTQIA+ community. Health disparities experienced by the queer community are a present danger to the well-being of people across the country.

Healthcare providers need to see the closure of these gaps as critical and meaningful. Mitigating health disparities begins with education. Courses like Anti-Discriminatory Practice as Cultural Competence with LGBTQIA+ Patient Populations created by Premiere’s Brian Masciadrelli Ph.D., LICSW, LMSW can expand your health disparity definition, and provide the  insights and strategies it takes to be an ally for underserved and at-risk communities. 

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