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    Everything doctors need to know about patient sexual orientation, gender identity

    Many health experts believe that by knowing whether a patient is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or straight, physicians can be more alert to a person’s medical needs and more thoughtful in interactions.

    Additionally, by understanding a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity, a clinician can be better equipped to address some of the more common physical, mental and social needs of each population.


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    “I took care of a gay patient who was the victim of a hate crime; he sustained a traumatic brain injury. Knowing my patient’s and his partner’s sexual orientation from the very beginning allowed me and other members of the care team to provide very specialized comprehensive care,” says Michael Mencias, MD, hospice medical director at MJHS, Brooklyn, New York. “For example, we were able to provide and recommend very specific social services to both men that addressed their isolation, loneliness, fear, anger, depression and other concerns that are common for this population and victims of such a crime.”

    Amy Stulman, NP, One Medical Group, Washington D.C., says that being “in the closet” is a major impediment to developing a meaningful patient/clinician relationship.

    “If you can’t be yourself and talk honestly and openly, your provider can’t provide the best care,” she says. “There’s a number of cases where knowing sexual orientation and gender identity is important.”

    For instance, during a well-woman visit, it’s appropriate to first determine the relationship status and the current partner’s sex in order have a meaningful conversation about a range of topics including sexual health, risk-appropriate STI screening and reproductive health and/or contraception.


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    Or a transgender patient who is on hormones may have specific health needs related to current gender or assigned sex at birth. For example, a trans woman might still have prostate problems, and a trans man still needs routine pap testing. 

    Next: Don't be afraid to ask

    Keith Loria
    Keith Loria is a contributing writer to Medical Economics.


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