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Med Students, Health Providers Hear Best Practices For Treating LGBTQ Patients

Adam Neff, a third-year med student at U of L, helped organize the day-long workshop.
Adam Neff, a third-year med student at U of L, helped organize the day-long workshop.

If you’re lesbian, gay, transgender or queer, it’s likely you’ve had to deal with health care providers awkwardly asking questions about gender identity and sexual orientation. Maybe they even seemed disgusted when you answered. Or maybe they don’t even ask at all.

The culminating effect can mean lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people avoid the doctor, which can lead to worsening physical and mental health. Lesbians are less likely to get preventive screenings for cancer, for instance, and LGBTQ people have the highest rates of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use.

The University of Louisville School of Medicine on Monday hosted medical students and health care providers interested in cutting down on those disparities by learning how to be ask about identity, sexual history and health care risks without sounding judgmental to keep patients coming back.

There were about 20 U of L students and four from other schools present, as well as 17 U of L staff, 41 U of L medical school faculty, and 40 other attendees.

Adam Neff, a third-year med student at U of L (pictured above), helped organize the day-long workshop. He’s gotten involved because of his own negative experiences with health care providers as a result of coming out as gay.

“It felt like the physicians were too uncomfortable addressing it because they knew I was gay after I came out to them,” Neff said. “They didn’t want to address the behaviors that might expose me to a specific risk."

The day-long training covered a range of topics, including how to administer hormone therapy to transgender patients, how to take a sexual history using terms that won’t make patients uncomfortable, and how to avoid making assumptions about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Jennifer Potter, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said a lesbian might be immediately turned off from a provider if they assume they are heterosexual and ask if they are using contraception. LGBTQ patients often avoid doctors because of past negative experiences with them.

According to Gallup, there are around 9 million people in the U.S. who identify as LGBTQ, or around 3 percent of the population.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.