March 27, 2013 | by Ray Martins
Be your own health care advocate
healthcare, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)

Coming out is an important part of who we are. It’s sometimes difficult to disclose our sexual orientation or gender identity to our family, friends, employers and co-workers.

But, trying as it may be, there’s at least one more person you need to add to that list: your health care provider.

Some people ask why they need to disclose that to their doctor. For one very simple reason: so he or she can give you the best health care possible.

Health care providers (doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, mental health professionals, dentists) need every bit of information they can get to provide you with the health care you need. Knowing that you are LGBT ensures they can treat all of you.

For example, if you tell your doctor that you are transgender, they can work with you to develop a plan to transition in a way that is healthy and medically appropriate.

If you are a lesbian or bisexual woman, they will know that you may be more likely to smoke and perform appropriate assistance in quitting.

Gay and bisexual men who are sexually active should be offered vaccinations against Hepatitis A and B, and, possibly, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

But, unless you tell your provider about your sexual orientation or gender identity, they won’t know to do any of this. And, unfortunately, many providers simply assume that their patients are heterosexual or identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. And many don’t think to ask their patients because some doctors do not know enough about LGBT health care concerns

Providing high quality and affirming care for the LGBT community was Whitman-Walker’s founding principle back in 1978. Back then, our services were limited to screening and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and treatment for mental health issues and substance abuse. Today, we are a leader in LGBT health care in the D.C. metropolitan area.

While you may be more familiar with our HIV services, we also provide a full range of health care services for patients who do not have HIV: primary medical care, mental health services, dental care and legal help. And our providers are not only well-trained in LGBT health care, they are highly experienced in delivering quality care.

But our community should not have to rely on one health center to receive the high quality care it needs. That care should be available in any community health center, any hospital, any academic medical center and any private practice in the nation.

As with all civil rights fights, real progress is only made through action. So, at your next doctor’s appointment, tell them about your sexual orientation or gender identity if you haven’t already. If they react negatively, then find another provider. If they react positively, then talk about how that information can improve the quality of your health care.

In the end, you deserve and should expect high-quality, affirming health care. You need to be open and honest with your medical providers. Remember, your good health is in your hands.

Dr. Ray Martins is chief medical officer of Whitman-Walker Health.

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