Experts: Little known about LGBT health
March 31st, 2011
03:43 PM ET

Experts: Little known about LGBT health

Little is known about health issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the United States according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine .  The non-profit organization says if federally funded surveys collect sexual orientation and gender identity data routinely,  much as race and ethnicity data is collected, it will help identify and further the understanding of health problems affecting LGBT people.

The report was commissioned by the National Institutes of Health, who asked the IOM to assess what is known about LGBT health and determine where the gaps are in research, so that the NIH can begin to focus research on these populations.

"It's easy to assume that because we are all humans, gender, race or other characteristics of study participant shouldn't matter in health research, but they certainly do," said committee chair Robert Graham, professor of family medicine and public health sciences at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.  "It was only when researchers made deliberate efforts to engage women and racial and ethnic minorities in studies, that we discovered differences in how some diseases occur in and affect specific populations.

Judith Bradford, Ph.D., a member of the committee who wrote the report, says the study is extremely important because it provides a picture of how little information is out there and shines a light on how stigma and discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity can impact health in these communities.

"Based on the limited data we do have, we find that LGBT people have health disparities in several areas and these are access to health care, and lack of access to heath care. Many health care providers do not understand who LGBT people are and may not be aware of our specific differences and our specific needs. This is particularly the case with transgender people and bisexual populations. Most of the research we have is about gay men and lesbians."

Bradford, co-chair of the Fenway Institute–an organization that provides health care services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community–and director of the institute's Center for Population Research in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health says the report is a road map for NIH and other government agencies for conducting the research necessary to provide LGBT people with culturally competent health care. The report recommends that NIH encourage researchers to include sexual and gender minorities in their studies.

The Whitman-Walker Clinic has provided health care for the Washington, D.C, area since 1978 and has long been committed to meeting the health needs of the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS.

“One of the biggest obstacles we run into in caring for the LGBT community is a lack of data. Without a full understanding of what unique health care needs LGBT people have, the medical community has a harder time determining a course of care for them," said Whitman-Walker Chief Medical Officer Ray Martins. "Good data will also help better train health care professionals to provide quality care to LGBT populations."  He added that the lack of data hinders training at every level in the health care profession.

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