COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ending the fear of discrimination and creating an inclusive medical environment - those are among the goals of National LGBT Health Awareness Week, which runs through Friday.
At Equitas Health in Columbus, education manager, Karen Nicosia, says there are social determinants that impact the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ohioans and make them less likely to seek medical care.
"When you have less acceptance from family or peers, there are real consequences," she says. "It affects their mental health and their physical health."
JC Chen, a medical student at OSU, says that within the health-care profession, the needs of LGBT patients are unfortunately often siloed into the areas of sexual and mental health.
"The curriculum is very 'othered,'" Chen says. "We don't really think of that population when we think of typical everyday diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes."
Equitas Health works to engage LGBT individuals to take control of their health, as well as educating doctors and other medical professionals about how they can become more inclusive of the LGBT community.
Nicosia says that includes working with providers to create a comfortable and welcoming space.
"There's more to inclusivity than just slapping a rainbow sticker in every room," Nicosia explains. "We go through health disparities but we also go through more practical stuff like how do you ask someone their pronouns? Is this a gender-inclusive restroom? Do the pamphlets reflect the patient?"
Chen developed patient-empowerment training for Equitas Health, which they say includes education to help LGBT individuals better manage their health and reduce anxieties during medical visits.
"Specific things like emotion regulation just to kind of minimize your vulnerability before you even walk into the appointment, so that if someone does end up saying something really harmful, there might be a way for you to think a little bit more from a wise mind," adds Chen.
Health disparities faced by the LGBT community include low rates of health-insurance coverage, and higher risks for cancer, mental illnesses and other diseases.