Wanda Montalvo, RN, PhD, associate director of the Weitzman Institute, recently responded to an article in the New York Times titled “Gay and Transgender Patients to Doctors: We’ll Tell. Just Ask”
All members of the healthcare team — not just doctors and not just in the emergency department — should know their patients’ sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Without that information, the LGBT population continues to be hidden, unable to access competent primary care.
We know that normalizing SOGI questions — making them a regular part of patient demographics —reduces stigma and makes everyone more comfortable. During our year-long initiative working with community health centers to identify LGBT people, we saw tremendous progress. When the initiative began in March 2016, the combined health centers had SOGI information on 3,584 of their patients, 4.6 percent of the total. In March 2017, after our work with clinicians and staff to change their heteronormative assumptions and their practice patterns, they had gathered information on 205,738 patients, or 50.8 percent.
The takeaway is clear. SOGI questions need to be asked early, as part of the regular patient history, by appropriate health care staff, not just doctors.
Montalvo was principal investigator on the initiative to identify and welcome LGBT people into primary care funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and led by the National Association of Community Health Centers, the Fenway Institute and the Weitzman institute.