As a caring provider, you’re committed to offering your patients a top-notch experience—no matter who they are. A critical component to offering such an excellent experience involves recognizing that some patients have different needs and expectations when they seek medical treatment—and that those needs should be respected.
Patients from the LGBTQ+ community fall into this category (especially those who identify as trans, nonbinary, or gender non-conforming). But, you’ll find that accommodating this community is pretty easy! It just requires showing all your patients a little extra patience and respect.
Ask for patients’ chosen names and pronouns—and document them!
One of the best ways to provide a first-rate patient experience to LGBTQ+ patients is to ask for their chosen name and pronouns (e.g., he, her, they) and document the information, keeping it in a location that’s easy to reference during a return visit. This helps patients feel respected and cared for—and it’ll prevent you from accidentally misgendering or deadnaming them.
Not sure how to respectfully ask for a patient’s pronouns? Check out these suggestions from student PT Haley Boccomino:
- “‘May I ask what pronouns you use?’
- ‘When I refer to you, what pronouns should I use?’
- ‘Are you comfortable sharing your pronouns?’”
If you’re looking for a more subtle way to phrase the question, consider asking patients this: “How would you like us to address you?” LGBTQ+ patients will see this as an opportunity to share their name and pronouns (if they feel comfortable sharing them)—and your other patients will appreciate the additional respect, too! This will help tremendously when it comes to establishing trust with a patient—and you’ll find that when a patient feels more comfortable, they tend to open up more.
However you choose to ask patients for this information, you can always collect it during the intake process. Providers can simply include a line on the form asking for a patient’s name and pronouns. Just be sure to review this information prior to greeting the patient—and use it!
Legal Disclaimer: As a reminder, please be aware that gender identity information is protected by HIPAA and cannot be used to discriminate and should not be disclosed unless permitted by law.
Don’t make assumptions—and use inclusive language.
The world as we know it is incredibly complex (and it grows more complex by the day). Using inclusive language is a great way to show respect for all the people you meet—and to avoid making any incorrect assumptions about their lives. For instance, asking about a patient’s spouse or partner instead of asking about a husband or wife is a more inclusive method of connecting with them—and it’ll help you avoid any awkward social gaffs that come from a false conjecture. The great thing about using neutral language is that it applies to everyone—so once you get used to it, you don’t have to switch back and forth between lingo.
If you make a misstep, apologize briefly and move on.
No matter how meticulous your documentation or how excellent your attention to patient care, information is still liable to slip through the cracks on occasion. So, if you find that you’ve accidentally misgendered a patient, used non-inclusive language, or overstepped a boundary, try not to sweat it too much. Best practice is to simply correct yourself in the moment, apologize for the mistake, and quickly move on. Don’t linger on the error (unless the patient asks to address it in more detail)—and don’t expect the patient to assume the emotional labor of consoling you or brushing off the mistake. In other words, don’t apologize over and over again until the patient feels obligated to step in and say something along the lines of “Oh no, that’s okay,” or “I’m sorry; don’t feel bad.”
In practice, an acceptable apology and correction combo is short, sweet, and to the point. One of the above-linked articles suggests keeping it as simple as this: “Sorry, I meant (insert pronoun).” Done deal!
Incorporate verbal consent into your clinical care.
Another superb suggestion from Boccomino is to seek explicit verbal consent from patients before treating sensitive areas. Working around a trans patient’s chest or lower extremities can cause them a great deal of discomfort—but asking for permission before touching the patient could lower their tension levels and offer them reassurance. Generally speaking, this advice also applies to patients who have suffered from physical or sexual trauma, and is a great way to gain a patient’s trust.
Per Boccomino, “Requesting consent can be as simple as explaining the reason for a particular action and then confirming the patient’s comfort with what you have described. If the answer is no, it is your job, as the physical therapist, to accommodate their boundaries.”
Get everyone in the clinic on board with using patients’ chosen names and pronouns.
As a provider, it’s incredibly important to establish a rapport with patients, letting them know that you respect them and they can trust you with their health outcomes. But to effectively build a strong rapport with patients, the clinic environment (as a whole) must be welcoming. That means providers, assistants, and front- and back-office workers must all be on board with using patients’ chosen names and pronouns. This is why including this information in patient documentation is so helpful. The whole clinic can refer to it—and gently correct each other if they notice someone misgendering a patient.
Show your dedication to non-discrimination on your website.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community often struggle to seek healthcare. Studies have shown more than one in 10 community members have experienced discrimination in a healthcare setting—and 15% to 18% have avoided seeking healthcare for fear of discrimination. To put your patients’ minds at ease before they ever walk through the door, consider posting a statement on your clinic’s website wherein you openly welcome LGBTQ+ patients and pledge to provide a safe environment. Or, consider posting “a publicly displayed non-discrimination statement that includes discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.”
Everyone deserves access to excellent medical care—and you, as a healthcare provider, have a wonderful opportunity to provide that to your LGBTQ+ patients. You have the power to improve the lives of countless patients—and to make the world a little more accepting in the process. Happy Pride month!