Dr. Latonya Riddle-Jones For MediaNews Group – March 4, 2019
Access to quality and effective health care is a key issue facing all Americans, and some groups face even more obstacles in this area. One such group is the LGBTQ community, which faces its own unique challenges in the health care realm.
In this column each month, we will address key health issues facing the LGBTQ community in the Metro Detroit area and beyond, and what is being done to tackle those issues.
Corktown Health Center, which opened in 2017, is Michigan’s only health center focused on the area LGBTQ population. The opening of an LGTBQ-focused health center was critical because we noticed that most primary physicians were not sufficiently aware of LGBTQ patients’ specific health issues, exposing the population to more health risks.
Here’s what the numbers show about specific issues of LGBTQ populations:
• LGBTQ populations have higher rates of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use.
• Transgender individuals have a higher prevalence of victimization, mental health issues, suicide, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and are less likely to have health insurance.
• African-American gay and bisexual men are at higher risk for acquiring HIV and STIs than their white counterparts.
• LGBTQ youths are 2-3 times more likely to attempt suicide.
• LGBTQ youths are more likely to be homeless.
• Lesbian and bisexual women are less likely to receive screening for breast and cervical cancer.
• Lesbians and bisexual women are more likely to be overweight or obese.
• Elderly LGBTQ persons face additional barriers to health because of isolation, lack of social services and culturally competent providers.
The focus of LGBTQ health care has shifted from being heavily focused in decades past on HIV prevention and treatment, to now being more focused on covering the overall health needs of LGBTQ patients.
One reason for this change is advances in the battle against HIV, which continues to bring major successes. Federal agencies propose to end the HIV epidemic by 2030, in part by increasing the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication that helps prevent at-risk populations from contracting the virus, and by providing rapid access to effective therapies for persons newly diagnosed with HIV.
HIV is still a serious issue, but prevention programs like PrEP help reduce HIV transmissions. That means health-care providers can focus on primary care and address common health issues such as obesity, hypertension, cancer and diabetes, so the LGBTQ population can close the gap in these areas.
In the end, it’s about ensuring access to comprehensive health care for LGBTQ patients, and both patients and doctors being comfortable discussing all health matters.
While these topics have traditionally been ignored by medical schools, it’s helpful that schools like Wayne State University are starting to train their medical students about specific needs relating to LGBTQ patients, which can only help communication and make a visit to the doctor less daunting for an LGBTQ patient.
We look forward to exploring the important issues in LGBTQ health care in the months to come.
Dr. Latonya Riddle-Jones is Chief Medical Officer at Corktown Health Center in Detroit, and an Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and pediatrics at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Corktown Health Center is the only health clinic in Michigan focused on treating LGBTQ patients. More information is available at corktownhealth.org.