Progress Is Being Made
As a queer doctor of colour, I am so happy healthcare is changing to allow LGBTQ+ patients to have more consultation choices than ever, especially post-pandemic. When I was growing up, you had 1 main option to see a doctor - your traditional local practice where the doctor was shared by your whole family and community. Then your care came down to a potluck regarding how “LGBTQ+ tolerant” your doctor may have been.
Telemedicine has empowered patients to actively decide more about their consultation experience. At the most basic level, telemedicine offers more physical and social safety because it allows patients to access care outside of a possibly unwelcoming local clinic.
Telemedicine Allows More Choice
A digital consultation allows patients the autonomy to choose:
- A safe space where THEY feel comfortable. Critically, this is a private place where they will not have to queue in a waiting room with known family or friends.
- The medium they want to communicate: video or audio. If using video, they will then be able to feel more control over their examination and what they are happy to expose
- The option to easily terminate the call and end the consultation if they do not wish to proceed
- A review of the consultation notes and any links to recommended resources
For these reasons, we see a lot more presentations of sexual health and mental health issues in general and in the LGBTQ+ population particularly. These problems would otherwise have no outlet apart from “Dr Google”, which can often give inaccurate and unreliable health information and can lead to people making poor or harmful decisions.
Feeling Seen By An LGBTQ+ Clinician Ally
An LGBTQ+ clinician ally is a term used to describe a healthcare worker who is supportive of inclusive care and actively advocates for all their LGBTQ patients. I love being part of our Babylon network of LGBTQ+ clinician allies who provide telemedicine and clinical care to our patients. It’s really rewarding to be able to utilize lived experience and personal training to help patients feel at ease to discussing queer health issues.
In some cases, it can already be challenging to find a clinician that you feel understood and truly seen by. However, the experience is exponentially harder if you’re a member of an underserved group like the LGBTQ+ community. Some LGBTQ+ patients can be so overwhelmed by negative experiences or fear of discrimination, they feel forced to hide their sexual and/or gender identities (and therefore their true health needs) or to avoid care altogether. This is a negative cycle because if any patient lets a medical problem worsen, they can often develop health anxiety and somatization - the manifestation of psychological distress by the presentation of physical symptoms.
Telemedicine can help fill the care gaps by enabling patients to connect with progressive clinicians beyond the limits of their geographical area - clinicians who accept them without judgment and address their holistic healthcare needs.
Quotes from our patients
"It's so important to have LGBT doctors who can understand the health needs of queer individuals like mine. I am so lucky to know a queer doctor as this is really rare and in the past, I have been misunderstood and experienced discrimination."
"I felt finally free to discuss everything about my health concerns and wellbeing. Because the doctor was an open member of the LGBTQ+ community, this made me feel confident that I was not judged no matter what. Moreover, the clinician could ask more specific questions. This has certainly made me closer to being open about my health"
"It has been a great relief to find someone that I connect with on such a deep level and I can freely open up, especially as a lesbian who has had struggles with coming out about my sexuality. I feel understood."
"Being queer impacts so much of one's life - mental health, physical health, security, safety, social relationships. In my experience, this is not usually understood (or even considered!) by clinicians I have seen previously. This clinician however not only asked about my sexual orientation but provided space for me to talk about my experience of being queer. The clinician obviously understands how being queer can impact one's mental health and life experiences.
I cannot emphasize enough how amazing it was to feel understood and accepted in this way, rather than receiving the usual awkwardness and brisk moving on that often happens with clinicians on disclosing my sexuality. I only wish this was something seen across more appointments and services - it would make such an overwhelming difference to queer people accessing health care! And it certainly helped me."
Every LGBTQ+ patient’s healthcare journey is different. Experiences are uniquely impacted by factors such as age, sex assigned at birth, gender identity, ethnicity, language, income, spirituality, and any disability. For example, a black bisexual cis-gendered female in her 20s may have a different experience accessing healthcare compared to a white gay cisgender male in his 40s. The increased accessibility of telemedicine can facilitate patients to be treated individually rather than just part of their local demographic, taking into account their intersectionality.
The Rainbow Horizon
With telemedicine increasing, I hope that fewer LGBTQ+ patients delay or avoid medical care. Feeling trust and safety is key, no patient should feel any pressure to hide their true health needs. Living authentically will always lead to living a better quality of life. I wish I had access to telemedicine as a queer youth and I am hopeful that we at Babylon can make it even better for the next generation.