Recently, a friend and I were chatting about the doctor — going to the doctor to be specific. My birthday is coming up, and it's time to book my annual doctor visit. When it came to my friend, I was surprised to learn that it had been more than 10 years since he had been to a doctor for just an annual visit. I was shocked to learn that it was because, as a gay man, he had some negative past experiences with healthcare providers. He told me that he feels like a lot of people from the LGBTQ+ community have anxiety about going to the doctor. In honor of June being LGBTQ+ Pride Month, I thought it would be the perfect time to check in with Christian Gausvik, MD, a gay physician from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Primary Care, to find out more about the health risks for our LBGTQ+ friends and how The Christ Hospital is breaking down healthcare barriers.
Health risks and the LGBTQ+ community
I asked Dr. Gausvik about some of the health risks that our LGBTQ+ community face. He said, "The biggest risk for the LGBTQ+ community in my mind is the risk of not getting adequate healthcare due to fear of discrimination. Depending on where you look, about 50 percent of the LGBTQ+ population have experienced discrimination in a healthcare setting in the past, and about a quarter have delayed healthcare because of that. Sadly, in the state of Ohio, it is actually legal to deny someone care in a medical setting based on their sexuality (making it even more important to know where they can receive supportive care — like at The Christ Hospital).
"Sometimes the lack of comfort or trust with a physician might result in withholding information or not sharing complete details about lifestyle and risk factors, and this keeps patients from getting the care they need and deserve. We also know that things like depression, anxiety and suicide rates are higher in the LGBTQ+ population. Due to the chronic stress of continually coming out and being a minority, the LGBTQ+ population also has higher rates of heart disease. Lesbians face higher rates of certain breast cancers and other health issues. And the list goes on. In the trans community, the biggest issue, in addition to the above, is access. The effects of not getting treatment for gender dysphoria are huge, and the number of physicians able to help with hormones and other medical services is often small, especially locally."
How to find a trusted provider
It is upsetting to me to know that people can be denied healthcare based on their sexuality. I'm sure it has to be challenging for people in the LGBTQ+ community to find a doctor or healthcare provider who can help them with their medical needs. Dr. Gausvik said, "In terms of primary care docs who are themselves members of the LGBTQ+ community, I believe we only have a few locally. However, there are many doctors out there and at The Christ Hospital who take excellent care of the LGBTQ+ community. Word of mouth is probably the best way — ask your friends — but OutCareHealth.org keeps a list as well, and some good Googling can also turn up some answers."
It was also wonderful to learn about some of the ways The Christ Hospital is supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Dr. Gausvik informed me that, "The Christ Hospital has been incredibly supportive and welcoming, from implementing a variety of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts; to upgrading our electronic medical record system to include sexual orientation, gender identity, preferred name, and pronouns; to participating in Pride and other awareness activities. I think it all increases both our visibility and our openness to patients."
Advocate for friends and family
When it comes to how we can help advocate for our LGBTQ+ friends, Dr. Gausvik suggested, "The best way to advocate is for friends and family to talk about this and listen up when laws and issues come up at our state level that may impact the care of the LGBTQ+ community. That kind of advocacy from our straight allies is key. Beyond that, healthcare workers can stay educated on LGBTQ+ health needs, in addition to showing that they are open and welcoming and invite trust by being vocal about it. Many will also wear a small rainbow sticker on their badge, or include their pronouns in emails and introductions — those are small nods that it is a safe space."
Schedule an appointment online with Dr. Gausvik, or find a primary care expert near you.
Learn more about The Christ Hospital's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.