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Health issues facing the GLBT community

There have been a number of recent publications dealing with health issues facing the gay and lesbian community, including gaps in research of problems affecting this population, as well as access to care. Patrick Coleman, M.D. an internal medicine specialist with the Piedmont Physicians Group, discusses about the healthcare issues affecting this community.

Dr. Coleman says the acronym “GLBT” means, “the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, a very broad community with several individual subsets.”

The Institute of Medicine released a report looking at the health status of the GLBT population. “They found that there was a slightly increased risk of breast cancer in lesbians, there was a slightly increased risk of tobacco and alcohol use in elders, and in the adolescent youth there was increased depression and substance abuse,” says Dr. Coleman.

The National Academy of Science issued a report examining why there are gaps in the incidences of these diseases, as well as access to care. “There are barriers that many people in the GLBT community face,” says Dr. Coleman. “They fear prejudice or discrimination, so they don’t actually seek healthcare.” He adds that when they do visit their healthcare provider, they often do not mention their sexual orientation or identity.

When it comes to researching the health issues that face the GLBT population, Dr. Coleman notes that there is not currently much research from which to learn. “Certainly HIV has been researched extensively, but the other issues affecting the community have not gained much research interest.”

Some patients, he says, worry that their sexual identity will be released with their medical records. “All of that information can be confidential and doesn’t have to be released in medical records. It’s not going to tag you or identify you to certain agencies,” he adds. His take-home message for patients: “I think they should identify themselves when they come in as gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual, and hopefully they will feel comfortable with their provider to have these honest conversations because it is so important to identify yourself.”

Dr. Coleman says that providers have a major opportunity to break down some of the barriers with identifying these patients by providing patient-centered medical care. “The gay and lesbian patient is just like any other patient – they just want good care and understanding from their doctor.”

When it comes to your health, it is important to be open with your physician; this information is crucial for him or her to make sure you are properly cared for.

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