Health care access, quality, and experience are not equal.
We still live in a world where providers turn away lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people because of their sexual orientation and gender identities. Our youth are more likely to be bullied, isolated and rejected. Our seniors fear that as they lose personal agency they’ll lose the rights for which they fought so hard.
We are more likely to experience major depression, bipolar disorder and substance abuse. We are at higher risk for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, sexually transmitted diseases and obesity compared to the general population. Sadly, we are also more likely to die by suicide.
Despite these risks, we are often on the receiving end of providers’ stigma, lack of awareness, and insensitivity when we do receive care. We worry, for legitimate reasons, that our pronouns will not be respected, our decisions and directives will be ignored, and we will not be able to visit our partners and our children when we most need to.
The health care system’s traditional access points have historically underserved us. Even in the Atlanta area, our major health care entities have not done enough.
As I write this, health care is undergoing a paradigm shift. Patient-experience-focused ventures backed health care companies are already swooping in to fill consumer needs neglected by traditional providers, including those in the LGBTQ community.
These direct-to-consumer startups now offer LGBTQ-focused, difficult-to-find health services that are traditionally not covered by insurance and/or that the medical establishment has ignored. They are often led by queer or trans staff. They follow a digitally accessible model, and they are giving traditional providers a run for their money. I offer the following examples:
Plume (getplume.co), a trans and queer-led, venture-backed telehealth startup, directly and remotely connects patients in 11 states (including Georgia) with providers. You can use your phone to confidentially order gender-affirming hormone therapy through this site.
Folx (folxhealth.com) covers doctor visits, lab work and some hormone medications for consumers in 12 states. Their tagline? “No ignorance, no judgment, no hassle.” While they don’t yet serve Georgia, it looks like they are expanding.
Included Health (www.includedhealth.com), a concierge platform, promotes their expertise in LGBTQ+ health. They can guide you through gender-affirming surgery, find you an LGBTQ+ therapist, and even walk you through the process of coming out at work.
And although we certainly have room to improve here in Georgia, there are still some rays of light. Queermed.com (queermed.com), based in Decatur, provides respectful and affirming care for transgender people. Isabel Lowell, M.D., started this practice after failing to receive needed financial investment and internal support for the transgender care clinic she started at Emory Clinic. We also have Atlanta-based InTown Primary Care (intownprimarycare.com), which offers hormone replacement therapy and HIV treatment, among other services, in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.
Our community—in Georgia and beyond—gets bigger and stronger every day. A recent poll (news.gallup.com/poll/329708/lgbt-identification-rises-latest-estimate.aspx) shows that 5.6% of the general U.S. population identifies as LGBTQ+, up from 4.5% in 2017. Society is changing, and so is our collective buying clout. Investors are finally seeing the enormity of our unmet needs and our growing economic power.
This is just the beginning of a paradigm shift in health care. If we are treated poorly, we can take our care needs and business elsewhere.