Eight Steps to Help LGBTQ+ Patients Feel at Home in Your Hospital

Monica Lin - 06/09/19

Imagine being rushed into an emergency room on a gurney; you are in pain, distressed, and uncertain of what’s really happening. You see people all around you, but you do not recognize any of the faces around you, and you are reaching for something familiar and comfortable in your mind, but you cannot find it. After the operation, you wake up and you want to see your significant other, who you were sure you were with when the injurious incident happened, but because this revealed to the hospital that you were a member of the LGBTQ+ community, they have denied you and your partner proper visitation rights. You are left alone to recover in a room where loneliness is the last thing that you want to face at the moment.

Perhaps you have not faced this situation yourself, but situations like this happen often. Though LGBTQ+ patients face many struggles with being denied care, even when they are given medical assistance, they can often feel unsafe or be treated unfairly in an environment that is meant to feel open and comfortable. Patients are supposed to trust hospitals and believe that they are comfortable in one; if not, then that is not truly medical “care.” In fact, forming a healthy bond with a patient is incredibly important for a nurse to do, and the personal interactions between a nurse and a patient can be just as impactive as the medical care they are supposed to be given. Because of this, one should know how to consider LGBTQ+ patients properly; displaying discomfort or bias on the job is not okay and should be combatted, and as a nurse, it is your responsibility to make patients in your hospital feel as much at home as possible. Here are eight things that you or your hospital can do in order to ensure that LGBTQ+ patients receive the treatment, both medical and personal, that they deserve.

1. Make sure that your hospital’s space is inclusive and comfortable

In the waiting room, be sure that your hospital’s nondiscrimination policy or patient bill of rights is very clearly displayed; this policy should express that equitable care will be provided regardless of a patient’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. A patient seeing this out in the open can be sure to feel more safe. Additionally, visual media in common areas, pamphlets, or brochures should be inclusive and include topics relevant to LGBTQ+ patients. Relevant magazines, posters, and information about local resources for the LGBTQ community should also be available. Décor and images depicting couples and families should include same-sex partners, same-sex parents, and LGBT families.

Moreover, unisex or singlestall restrooms should be put into place in order to make patients whose appearance might not conform to gender stereotypes feel more welcome and safe. Make sure that the forms in your hospital include more than just “male” and “female” for the two gender options. As a last example, ensure that visitation policies are fair and nondiscriminatory so that no patient is denied equal visitation rights. By doing this, LGBTQ+ patients may feel more welcome, comfortable, and at home when receiving incredibly necessary care in your institution.

2. Be open-minded

Even if the workspace that you are committed to appears to be accepting of all kinds of people, what matters more are the mentality of the people who work at the hospital, and this starts at the individual level. You, as a nurse, then, have a responsibility to be open-minded. If a patient looks different when they walk in, do not judge them, feel disgusted, or display discomfort simply because they look different than the patients that you normally treat. Try to think thoughts about all sides and remind yourself constantly that things are not always as they seem. Whether they are or not as well, that’s okay; it should not deeply affect how you treat them on the personal level.

3. Don’t assume and don’t be pushy

This falls into the same vein as being open-minded but translates into actions as well. If a female walks in who is dressed in a less feminine way, do not assume that they are a member of the LGBTQ+ community simply because it fits your available stereotype. Do not behave in a way that shows that you are assuming they are something, even if they are what you believe them to be. Remember to treat everybody equally.

If they state that they are uncomfortable sharing their sexual orientation with you or do not want to share information regarding their gender, don’t be pushy. Unless that information is critical to the care that you must give them, it’s rather unnecessary to acquire, though it’s the norm.

4. Gain as much exposure to the LGBTQ+ community as possible

Cultural competency and knowledge is incredibly important; a comprehensive education regarding the LGBTQ+ community can help you better care for and understand patients. Knowing what some basic terms are, such as what the different letters in the acronym of LGBTQ+ stand for, is a good start. If you want a quick rundown, you can check out our blog post on Nurses, Patients and 21st-Century Gender Expression.  If that is not comprehensive enough for you, here is a glossary of terms about gender expression that was compiled by the Human Rights Campaign. Such knowledge is the foundation for empathy, breaking stereotypes, and making patients feel safe when they need it most.

If you want to learn more about how to culturally care for LGBTQ+ patients, you should check out the course that we have on it called, “Cultural Competency with Religious, Ethnic, and LGBTQ+ Considerations” or click on this link here for quick access.

5. Understand the physical, mental health, and legal risks that are more unique to LGBTQ+ patients

There are many health conditions that affect LGBTQ+ members more specifically. Such conditions include less access to insurance and health care services, such as preventative care (i.e. cancer screenings), higher rates of substance abuse, smoking, and alcoholism, higher rates of anxiety and depression, higher rates of some sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and increased incidence of some cancers (Western Journal of Medicine, 2000). Some patients also receive delayed care and are denied care in its totality at times.

An in-depth understanding of these risks can assist nurses in providing more personalized and efficient care for LGBTQ+ patients.

6. Engage in LGBTQ+ patient training workshops

Oftentimes, when nurses feel uncomfortable with a patient because of how that patient expresses their gender, it’s because a nurse has not yet had exposure to someone from the LGBTQ+ community. Expressing discomfort with a patient, though, can make them feel unsafe when they need well-mannered attention and care. Moreover, it can make other nurses and medical professionals in the situation uncomfortable. Though this is not a nurse’s fault, hospitals can try harder to expose nurses to LGBTQ+ patients by holding workshops in which they must interact with patients of all different backgrounds through hypothetical situations. Such hypothetical situations and exercises can also be incorporated every once in a while during meetings just so that nurses can constantly understand the normalcy of such events. That way, they can apply the knowledge they’ve learned from books and other resources firsthand and understand that no matter what, a patient is a patient and all patients deserve equal kindness and respect when being treated.

7. Be aware and reflect on the experience of an LGBTQ+ patient in your hospital’s setting

In order to make sure that your hospital and you are both offering the care that LGBTQ+ patients need, it’s important to always be on your toes and consider what you can do to make the environment more comfortable or what your workspace is missing. This requires a conglomeration of all the previous topics that have been discussed and an active awareness regarding what you see.

If you were an LGBTQ+ patient in your work seeing, would you feel comfortable in your reception areas? Are the pamphlets and patient education materials inclusive? Are same-sex couples treated the same as heterosexual couples? Have all staff members had diversity training? If any of the answers to these questions are ever “no,” then some changes must be implemented. Such an awareness helps you and your hospital be as comfortable and welcoming as possible.

8. Treat them with as much respect as you would any patient

Remember that when you treat an LGBTQ+ patient, you should be as kind, respectful, and affirming as possible in order to better their experience with you, your care, and your hospital. Many LGBTQ+ members spend the majority of the formative years of their life hiding their identities from even the people who know them best, and so it takes a lot of courage, often necessity, for them to sit in front of you and disclose the personal information that they do. In fact, many LGBTQ+ members are concerned about reaching out for assistance because they are afraid of facing issues of confidentiality or being hurt even more from denial of care in general.

It is important, then, to make sure that you do not make them feel as if they came to the wrong place to receive the care that they will be given. It is important, then, to give them efficient and beneficial treatment so that in the future, they are not afraid to reach out for help again.

The personal interactions that you have with your patients can make a world of difference. In fact, lives are at stake with maltreatment resulting from biases, stereotypes, and ignorance, and it is important that you do as much as possible to give the best and most inclusive healthcare that you can.