Speaker Discusses Optimizing Care for LGBT Patients

March 13, 2017
Shane Snowdon

One would think, mused Shane Snowdon, that in 2017 patients who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgender would consistently receive identical health care as straight people. She said that is not always the case.

“Many patients are anxious going into a hospital, but LGBT patients have an extra layer of anxiety because they really don’t know what to expect,” said Snowdon, former director of the Center for LGBT Health & Equity at the University of California, San Francisco. “But you, as health providers, can make a big difference by being warm and caring without judgment.”

Snowdon presented “Optimizing Care for Your LGBT Patients: What They’d Like to Know” on March 9 as the ninth E. Lorraine Baugh Visiting Faculty speaker. While she admitted that giving a talk to a roomful of health care students, faculty, and staff is generally a receptive audience, she gave a number of examples of how the biases and prejudices that she experienced coming out decades ago continues to exist.

She reiterated that it’s not the grand gestures that can ease the concerns of a LGBT patient; rather, it’s ensuring that a LGBT couple doesn’t wait longer than other patients, that they are not subjected to over-enforcement of rules such as visiting hours, or having a health care provider refer them to someone else without explanation. “It’s things like that in which we just don’t seem human to them,” she said.

She also gave several examples of how health care providers can address the LGBT patients’ anxiety. When her own son was being treated for a chronic condition, she noted how supported he felt when a nurse practitioner referred to Snowden and her wife as his “moms.” Even having a health care facility change its forms to “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” can make a big difference.

“It’s a big challenge in health care because that’s where people are at their most vulnerable,” Snowdon said. “And even with federal protection, we still worry about how we will be treated.”

The lecture series honors E. Lorraine Baugh, the IHP’s first chairperson of the Board of Trustees who is now an Honorary Trustee. The series supports a visiting faculty speaker with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the health professions. It was made possible by the support of IHP Honorary Trustee Carol M. Taylor and her husband, John H. Deknatel.