OptumHealth Education has co-created a free, publicly available and accredited program to educate healthcare professionals on the LGBTQ community's specific care needs.
The series of virtual lessons from Optum and OutCare Health, a national not-for-profit LGBTQ health equity organization, are meant to help providers build and promote a more affirming and supportive healthcare environment for LGBTQ people.
This program is a large part of UnitedHealth Group's commitment to advancing health equity, said Amy Nguyen Howell, Optum senior national medical director, Office for Provider Advancement.
"We hope that through increased provider education, awareness and understanding blind spots and implicit bias, we can lower social stigma, decrease discrimination and really improve health disparities for the LGBTQ community," Nguyen Howell said.
In the U.S., 12% of LGBTQ respondents report having to teach their providers their identities and healthcare needs, according to a 2020 Center for American Progress survey.
The survey found that 14% of LGBTQ patients experienced a doctor or provider being uncomfortable due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation, 8% experienced harsh or abusive language, and 7% received unwanted physical contact.
Caring for the LGBTQ+ Community: An Introduction, is an on-demand webcast available on OptumHealth Education's website for providers who create a free account. The program is also eligible for continuing education credits.
Nguyen Howell said its main goal is to give examples of ways providers can show respect and compassion for LGBTQ patients while allowing for authentic communication and creating a feeling of safety.
Through handouts, reference materials and articles, the series discusses appropriate pronouns and terminology to use with those in the LGBTQ community, the negative effects of implicit bias, stigma and discrimination on mental and physical health, and specific health-related risks and disparities the community experiences.
From physicians to nurses, to therapists, to lab technicians and those administrative support, everyone should be able to serve LGBTQ folks as they navigate the healthcare system, said Adriana Krasniansky, researcher at Rock Health.
"There's a great need for increased competency around the provider base," Krasniansky said. "There's an opportunity to increase credentialing, training and professional resources for continued learning around what it means to provide queer inclusive and queer competent care, both in person and digitally."
Throughout fall 2021, more training modules will become available, offering in-depth, provider-focused education about caring for the needs of specific LGBTQ populations, such as transgender patients.
In addition to the virtual program, Optum created PRIDE365+, a website offering resources to educate and support LGBTQ people and allies in constructing safe and respectful environments. The website includes several guides on terminology and how to be supportive as an ally, as well as informational content from Optum's partner Trans Lifeline, a grassroots nonprofit offering emotional and financial support to trans people in crisis.
Although a significant segment of the LGBTQ digital health marketplace focuses on care navigation and helping individuals find culturally competent providers, Krasniansky said the best practices in terms of what LGBTQ-inclusive healthcare looks like are continually evolving.
It is important to figure out how to address an LGBTQ patient, the types of questions to ask, and to recognize that LGBTQ experiences may be different based on one's geographic location, income level and ethnicity, she said.
"Intersectionality will be an increasing area of focus as we think about provider empowerment to serve patients as their full selves," Krasniansky said.