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LGBT Access to Health Care: A Dermatologist’s Role in Building a Therapeutic Relationship

The last decade has been a period of advancement for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community for legal protections and visibility. Although the journey to acceptance and equality is far from over, this progress has appropriately extended to medical academia as physicians search for ways to become more inclusive and effective care providers for their LGBT patients.1 In a recent cross-sectional study, Ginsberg et al2 examined the role for dermatologists in the care of transgender patients. The investigators concluded that dermatologists should play a larger role in a transgender patient’s physical transformation.2 It is our opinion that dermatologists need to be comfortable building rapport with LGBT patients and to become attuned to their specific needs to provide effective care.

When forging a relationship with an LGBT patient, assumptions can damage rapport. Two assumptions that should be avoided include presuming heterosexuality or, on the other hand, assuming risk for disease based on known LGBT status. A dermatologist who takes a cursory sexual history, or none at all, assuming his/her patient is heterosexual creates an environment in which a nonheterosexual patient feels uncomfortable being honest and open. Although there is enough literature to support the claim that some sexual minority groups have increased the risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs),3 it is dangerous to assume a patient’s risk based solely on sexual orientation. An abstinent patient or a patient in a long-term, monogamous, same-sex relationship, for instance, may feel stereotyped by a dermatologist who wants to screen him/her for an STI. The best step in building a therapeutic relationship is to cast out these assumptions and allow LGBT patients to be open about themselves and their sexual practices. Sexual histories should be asked in nonjudgmental ways that are related to the health of the patient, leading to relevant and useful information for their care. For example, ask patients, “Do you have sex with men, women, or both?” This question should be delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, which conveys to the patient that the provider merely wants an answer to guide patient care.

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About Dr. J. Kim

Dr Kim developed (and is continuing to develop) dermatology research news as we way from dermatologists to stay on top of the latest advances in the field of dermatology.

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