Providing Inclusive Medical Care for the LGBTQ+ Community: A Q&A with Dr. Justin Schweitzer

June 26, 2020Dr. Justin Schweitzer

Doctors’ visits can be nerve wracking for anybody. Questions of “what should I mention” and “what if something is wrong” swarm our minds beforehand.

Jefferson Health New Jersey Regional Medical Director of Primary Care Dr. Justin Schweitzer knows full well how much of an understatement this can be for many LGBTQ+ people – a severely underserved community in the world of healthcare.

Dr. Schweitzer is at the forefront of a new Jefferson Health New Jersey LGBTQ-centered medical practice to open in Collingswood later this year. The first of its kind in South Jersey, the practice will cater to both the physical and mental health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, with rotating specialists in various disciplines.

In honor of Pride Month, Dr. Schweitzer explains why such an inclusive medical practice is needed in this day and age, discussing the various health disparities faced by the LGBTQ+ community, as well as how cultural competence can be achieved:

Q: What kind of barriers to care does the LGBTQ+ community face?

A: Discrimination and accessibility are two of the most prominent problems. Studies show that more than 50 percent of LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. have experienced some form of healthcare discrimination. In some cases, it is intentional – such as an office directly refusing care – but it’s often unintentional.

Many health systems don’t routinely collect what is known as SO/GI data (sexual orientation and gender identity), making it difficult to provide adequate care. Without this information, if a transsexual person’s identity doesn’t match their legal name, how can we acknowledge their preference and ask them the right questions? It can be frustrating for someone to have to explain themselves constantly. To avoid this anxiety, people either stop seeking care, or they withhold important information.

Also, many primary care providers haven’t been properly trained to cater to their needs and often turn them away to see a specialist. Unfortunately, many of these specialists are located several hours away, they may not be covered by Medicaid, and they may have long wait periods. On the other hand, some PCPs are LGBTQ+ friendly, but that information isn’t advertised, so people don’t know where to look.

Q: What are some of the unique health needs of the LGBTQ+ community?

A: Primarily they are hormone replacement therapy for transgender men and women and gender non-conforming individuals, as well as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which greatly reduces the risk of HIV transmission and has been FDA-approved since 2012. It’s well-known that LGBTQ+ people are at higher risk for HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases. However, studies have also shown staggering statistics related to mental health, such as higher rates of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts – largely linked to societal pressures. These are all essential to address.

Back in the fall, Jefferson Health New Jersey teamed up with the New Jersey Department of Health to implement TelePrEP – a program which connects patients from all over the state to our PCPs who can prescribe them the proper preventative medications virtually, via telemedicine. This has helped improve accessibility for many people.

Q: What is “culturally competent” care and what does it call for?

A: Above all else, being culturally competent means being open and accepting to diversity. Be respectful of gender preference, be willing to ask the right questions, and also be willing to apologize if you get it wrong. Doing this goes a LONG way. With an open and understanding dialogue, patients will be more likely to open up. Cultural competence also involves education. It’s important to be familiar and comfortable with preventative medications. This will allow you to do your job better as a physician and properly care for your patient.

The bottom line in regard to why inclusive medical care is so important for LGTBQ+ people is simple – they deserve equal, high-quality care to maintain their health.

To learn more about TelePrEP and other Primary & Specialty Care Services offered at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, click HERE.