Spotlight on Health

Creating safe spaces for LGBTQ patients

By Nadia Daniell-Colarossi, OMA Public Affairs

Dr. Robert Kerr, a family physician in Hamilton, says it’s a privilege to be the person that people feel safe and comfortable enough with to divulge information about their health and personal life.

But he also knows that far too many patients, especially those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGTBQ) community, don’t always find that level of trust with their health-care provider. For this reason, Dr. Kerr has a medical practice that specializes in caring for LGBTQ patients and devotes time to helping educate his colleagues about how to meet the needs of their LGBTQ patients.

“Medicine is still somewhat of a conservative field, but that’s changing and there are many physicians who are interested in learning how to adapt their practice to meet the unique care needs of LGBTQ patients,” said Dr. Kerr.

For starters, Dr. Kerr teaches his medical trainees and colleagues to use gender-neutral language, which is not always easy in a society that assumes that heterosexual is the normative. He says, asking open-ended, non-gender specific questions, as well as finding out how patients want to be identified and the name they prefer are the first steps to creating safe spaces.

Dr Kerr

Dr. Kerr pursed family medicine because it provided the most diverse training, though after finishing his residency training he “fell” into emergency medicine and practiced that for 17 years. Dr. Kerr realized it was time for a change and with the need for more LGTBQ focused health services he went back to his roots in family medicine.

A survey of LGTBQ patients in Hamilton found that more than 40 per cent did not feel comfortable discussing their sexual orientation with their family doctor. Dr. Kerr is working to break down the barriers that prevent patients from seeking out medical care.

“All of our staff has been through positive space training,” said Dr. Kerr. “When patients walk through our doors we make it easy for them to start any conversation, because too many people in the LGTBQ community avoid going to the emergency room or to a doctor out of fear of discrimination.”

Dr. Kerr points out that there are even more alarming health stats when it comes to the LGBTQ community. Studies show that that 70 per cent of people who identify as transgender contemplate suicide and 40 per cent attempt to end their life.

“Our system is generally quite good about providing culturally competent care to our diverse population, but again, most of the time it is delivered through a heterosexual lens,” said Dr. Kerr. “In order to get proper medical care, patients need to be able to talk about their health and their fears and they can only do that when they feel they are in a safe place.”

This article originally appeared in our monthly e-newsletter, Spotlight on Health.
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Posted on May 30, 2017 in newsletter

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