Members of the D.C. Council introduced the LGBTQ Cultural Competency Continuing Education Amendment Act on April 14 – a bill that would require all health care professionals to receive additional cultural competency training, with the aim of improving care for the LGBTQ community.
The legislation proposes that all health care professionals be required to take two credits worth of cultural competency training, which consists of an hour-long course of continuing medical education. Sponsored by D.C. Councilmembers David Grosso (I-At Large) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and co-sponsored by the other nine members of the D.C. Council, the bill will attempt to reduce alleged disparities between the professional health care treatment of LGBTQ community members and the non-LGBTQ population.
In a statement on his website, Grosso said that the bill is a necessity since more than 66,000 members of the D.C. LGBTQ community receive medical treatment. A 2011 study from the Joint Commission, a company that accredits and certifies health care organizations, postulated that citizens identifying as LGBTQ face issues like refusal or delay of care, mistreatment and inappropriate visitation limits by health care providers.
“[LGBTQ citizens] deserve access to medical professionals who are sensitive to and knowledgeable about the unique health needs of the LGBTQ community,” Grosso said in the statement. “LGBTQ health disparities are real and this is a contribution to our efforts to narrow those disparities in the District of Columbia.”
Neither Grosso nor Alexander responded to requests for comment.
Dr. Andrea Singer, a faculty member at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, said that the LGBTQ community faces poor access to care in addition to bias and discrimination while attempting to receive medical care.
“I think there is pretty strong evidence that has been published and that demonstrates that LGBTQ people are disadvantaged by our current health care system,” Singer said. “The LGBTQ patient is more reluctant to seek care if they think they may be in a situation which would be uncomfortable for them or the provider.”
GU Pride President Campbell James (SFS ’17) said that he was afraid to tell his doctor that he was gay, since some LGBTQ patients are discriminated against in medical settings.
“I remember when I first told my doctor I was gay, I was terrified that he would tell my parents, and that I would be treated differently,” James wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Luckily, in my case, my doctor did not. That being said, many LGBTQ folk may not trust their doctors and may still fear social stigma.”
Dr. Ranit Mishori, a family medicine physician at the Georgetown University Medical Center, agreed that cultural competency training is a necessity for health care providers. However, she also voiced concerns that increasing cultural competency training for doctors may not solve the physical and mental health issues faced by the LGBTQ population.
“Studies have not necessarily shown in general that cultural competency enhances the health of populations,” Mishori said. “It may enhance what physicians know about certain groups, but it doesn’t necessarily show outcomes and changes in mortalities or deaths and diseases.”
Mishori also emphasized the need to recognize differences in the issues faced by members of the LGBTQ community, stating that any bill that addresses the LGBTQ community should avoid acting as a blanket response.
“The one thing that is very important to remember is that the LGBTQ community is not one cohesive community,” Mishori said. “Within this community there are different sections, different aspects … as a result, there are multiple disparities on many levels.”
Singer noted that the GUMC educates its future doctors regarding cultural competency issues in the second year of its program. She explained that the curriculum includes different classes on human sexuality as well as access to academic panels and small group sessions.Other medical schools, such as those at Stanford University and Michigan State University, have also examined teaching cultural competency components to their students.
“I think we have realized at Georgetown that these are very important issues [and] that the foundation needs to be started in medical school,” Singer said. “That’s an important part of our curriculum.”
Singer added that new methods for teaching cultural competency for the LGBTQ community are introduced every year.
“There are always updates and new information that comes along both on the level of lectures or individual teachers who are involved as well as the course directors,” Singer said. “We are continually looking at what is new in these topic areas.”
James applauded the D.C. Council’s efforts, and while he stressed that different segments of the LGBTQ community face dissimilar problems, he said that the Council is taking a step in the right direction.
“Starting the conversation and awareness to the differences in health in the LGBTQ community … is incredibly important,” James wrote in an e-mail. “[The bill] shows that the D.C. government is trying to care for its LGBTQ population and make D.C. a great place to be LGBTQ.”
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