As much as we talk about the importance of creating optimal patient experiences throughout all areas of rehab therapy – how doing so can increase compliance and improve patient outcomes while enhancing your bottom line – it’s important to remember that achieving this is an active and ongoing process.
It’s a process that requires continued and honest reflection as you consider how you and your clinic’s staff might better serve populations that have long been maligned and misunderstood.
Populations like the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) community, for example, fall into this category.
Recent studies have shown that people who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely, for instance, to delay or avoid healthcare needs altogether based on past negative experiences or the feeling they may be unfairly mischaracterized or judged by practitioners and staff.
Consider these statistics:
- 48% of transgender adults have delayed or avoided medical care1, while 19% have been refused medical care.2
- 29% of LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) adults have delayed or avoided medical care, compared with 17% of heterosexual adults.3
- Discrimination experienced by those in the LGBTQ+ community has been associated with higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse and suicide.4
To help turn these statistics around, it’s vital that providers across the spectrum strive to offer a healthcare experience that’s both inclusive and affirming to those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
What does this look like?
In honor of Pride Month, we’d like to offer you some ideas, and a few resources, for making your physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech-language pathology facility more inclusive to people who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Be Proactive While Avoiding Common Missteps
For many people who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, having a positive experience at a healthcare facility generally starts and ends with simply feeling included and accepted.
This may seem simple enough, but trust can be a delicate thing … especially in healthcare.
Outright slurs, personal criticisms or acts of discrimination, of course, should never be tolerated by patients or clinicians. It’s often the more innocent mistakes and oversights, however, that cause patients to become uncomfortable and even defensive.
Making seemingly safe assumptions about gender identity, family makeup or sexual orientation, for instance, can cause a patient to clam up, perhaps causing them to hold back information that may be important during assessments and treatments.
Such incidents can also cause patients to cancel future appointments and delay further care altogether.
To avoid such missteps, strive to develop a clinic environment that’s more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community.
Consider the following suggestions:
Create a Welcoming Environment
As with any group that has a history of experiencing discrimination, many within the LGBTQ+ community are quick to notice signs they’ve entered a “safe space,” even within the walls of your clinic. Such signs may include:
- A visible nondiscrimination policy positioned at the check-in desk or prominently displayed in the waiting area.
- Available unisex restrooms.
- Literature or marketing materials featuring diverse images and language.
- Rainbow flags, pink triangles, posters announcing LGBTQ-related events or observances, and other symbols typically associated with inclusiveness.
Use Inclusive, Gender-Neutral Language
Both when speaking with patients and creating patient intake forms, language matters. Strive to use language that’s both inclusive and gender-neutral so you can better relate to the realities of those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Some examples include:
- Instead of marital status, consider asking for relationship status with options for “married,” “partnered” and “other.”
- Ask for the preferred names and preferred pronouns of patients. Some transgender people may not identify with the name/gender on their official IDs or insurance cards.
- Follow the patient’s lead by using specific language and labels they use for themselves.
Expand Your LGBTQ+ Knowledge
According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 20 million adults in the U.S. identify as LBGTQ+.5 With a population this big, it can benefit you and your staff – and ultimately your patients – to educate yourself about these members of your community and the difficulties they face in healthcare as well as in society.
From a professional’s perspective, the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center offers free CME/CEU credits for healthcare professionals,6 including live and on-demand webinars and learning modules.
In addition, get to know local organizations that advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and other maligned populations. From them, you can better learn about community resources that may complement and/or boost patient wellness efforts.
Market Directly to LBGTQ+ Communities
Making healthcare more inclusive for people of all experiences and walks of life is simply the right thing to do. Everyone deserves the chance to live a life of optimal health, and you as rehab therapists play a key role in helping people achieve this goal.
Marketing-wise, this is a wonderful message to convey in and of itself. But, when you’re considering marketing and engagement efforts during Pride Month and beyond, don’t be shy about taking this message directly to your local LGBTQ+ community.
A recent survey released by Community Marketing & Insights7 provides some statistics that show the LGBTQ+ community appreciates companies and organizations that speak directly to them. The annual survey concluded that:
- 71% of respondents agreed with the statement, “I am more likely to purchase from a company that outreaches and advertises to the LGBTQ community.”
- 76% of respondents agreed with the statement, “I think more positively about companies that sponsor LGBTQ community organizations and events.”
In other words, don’t shy away from your local LGBTQ+ community, and certainly don’t simply assume they know they have your support. Just as with most any patient engagement effort, creating positive experiences is often about the little things that make patients feel welcomed, accepted and cared for.
And, it’s about respecting your patients by learning, listening and striving to more fully understand the hurdles that have kept them from seeking healthcare in the past.
To explore this topic in more detail, start with the ebook “Providing Inclusive Services and Care for LGBT People,” a comprehensive guide put together by the National LGBT Health Education Center.
6 Patient Engagement Strategies for Rehab Therapy Clinics
Actionable tactics your team can implement right away.
1 3 Center for American Progress, “How to Close the LGBT Health Disparities Gap,” Dec. 21, 2009
2 Hospital for Special Surgery, “Enhancing Clinical Skills in Care for LGBTQ+ Clients in a Hospital Setting,” Mar. 24, 2020
4 Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Health”
5 Human Rights Campaign, “We Are Here: LBGTQ+ Adult Population in the United States Reaches At Least 20 Million,” Dec. 9, 2021
6 National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center, “About CME/CEU Credit”
7 Community Marketing & Insights, “16th Annual LGBTQ Community Survey,” June 2022