Working toward more compassionate and inclusive care for the LGBTQIA+ community

Key takeaways:

  • Many health disparities affect the LGBTQIA+ community, sometimes causing them to forego or delay important medical care.

  • Swedish is taking steps to create a more inclusive care environment with our LGBTQI+ Initiative.

  • Patients can access a range of transgender care services across Swedish.

[4 MIN READ]

While working in a COVID-19 respiratory clinic last year, Kevin Wang, M.D., a family physician at Swedish, introduced himself to a young patient. As part of his standard introduction, Dr. Wang noted his pronouns — he/him/his — and asked how the patient would like to be addressed.

The patient, who identified as non-binary, was surprised someone took the time to ask this question. By the end of the visit, the patient was in tears.

“They felt for the first time that their identity mattered in the care they received,” says Dr. Wang. “And they hoped the data I collected could be used to help show how COVID-19 affects the gender-diverse community.”  

Every individual should feel safe and cared for when they walk into our clinics — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

As we celebrate Pride Month this June, we recognize that every individual should feel safe and cared for when they walk into our clinics — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We’re working hard to create a more inclusive and supportive healthcare environment while also building a dialogue with the LGBTQIA+ community.

“Too often, we expect patients to come to us,” says Dr. Wang, who is leading change as the medical director for the Swedish LGBTQI+ Initiative. “But we need to shift the way we provide care and begin going to them, where they feel safe.” 

Meeting the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community

In early 2020, Swedish launched the LGBTQI+ Initiative to identify opportunities to improve care and better meet the health needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. The Initiative has spent the last year analyzing data on gender-diverse patients in the region and at Swedish. Members of the Initiative team have also worked alongside more than a dozen community organizations and the Swedish LGBTQI+ Caregiver Resource Group (CRG) to better understand how to support the LGBTQIA+ community, especially our trans and gender-diverse community, at Swedish.

“It starts with providing care in an inclusive and supportive environment,” says Dr. Wang. “From making sure our policies are LGBTQIA+ inclusive to having patient care navigators who can provide resources and referrals.”

The Initiative also worked with the CRG to raise awareness around the health disparities that affect LGBTQI+ communities.

Compared to the general patient population, gender-diverse patients often face higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide, are lower-income, and often have less than a high school education. Because of these factors, many gender-diverse patients choose to delay or forego important medical care.

The caregivers at Swedish do a great job providing empathetic and inclusive care. 

“The caregivers at Swedish do a great job providing empathetic and inclusive care. But some people may not know the history of how or why health disparities exist in the LGBTQIA+ community,” Dr. Wang says. “We say we want to provide compassionate, empathetic care to every person, but the medical setting has not always been the safest place for marginalized patients.”

Creating inclusive clinic space

There are many areas of healthcare that can be made more inclusive for gender-diverse patients — from the physical clinic space to patient health forms.

There are many areas of healthcare that can be made more inclusive for gender-diverse patients — from the physical clinic space to patient health forms.

“The potential to make our clinical environments more inclusive is endless,” Dr. Wang adds.

At Swedish, we recognize that it’s important to consider every step of the patient experience. With the help of the LGBTQI+ Initiative, we’re working on implementing these steps:

  • Distributing pronoun pins (she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs) to team members and clinicians
  • Using gender-inclusive language in patient materials, including brochures or pamphlets
  • Using gender-inclusive language in signage, including urine collection areas
  • Creating all-gender restrooms
  • Adding fields in intake forms, electronic health record, and MyChart for chosen name, pronouns, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex assigned at birth

Providing complete LGBTQIA+ health services

Beyond our clinic environment, inclusivity also means offering comprehensive health services for the LGBTQIA+ community. At Swedish, we value all people and are committed to ensuring everyone feels welcome and respected under our care. With a team of providers who are trained in transgender health, we can offer a wide range of gender-affirming care to our transgender and gender-diverse community.

Gender-affirming care includes treatment that allows a person’s second sexual characteristics to align with their gender identity. 

Gender-affirming care includes treatment that allows a person’s second sexual characteristics to align with their gender identity. It can include a variety of services — medical care, social support and behavioral health.

The Swedish Transgender Health services are:

  • Gender-affirming hormonal therapy for adults
  • Gender-affirming hysterectomy
  • Gender-affirming oophorectomy
  • Bottom surgery post-op/recovery
  • Gender-affirming top surgery
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis

Making system-wide changes at Swedish

At Swedish, we recognize that we have work to do when it comes to creating a more inclusive space for gender-diverse patients. Thanks to the recommendations from the LGBTQI+ Initiative, we’re working on developing more resources and training for our providers, starting with employee orientation.

We need to make sure we’re setting a space where gender-diverse patients feel supported and safe.

“We need a solid foundation in training and education, not just for people who provide medical care, but for all caregivers at Swedish,” says Peter Mann-King, program manager for the Swedish LGBTQI+ Initiative. “We need to make sure we’re setting a space where gender-diverse patients feel supported and safe.”

We also recognize the importance of capturing data on sexual orientation and gender identity-related metrics so we can use it to improve care related to LGBTQIA+ community.

Swedish recently hired Mattie Mooney, Sr. Program Coordinator for transgender healthcare navigation, who has extensive experience as a community leader, organizer, and advocate for the trans and gender-diverse community. This coordinator will help support patients as they navigate care at Swedish and provide connections or referrals to other LGBTQIA+ groups in the region.

“We want to go beyond providing comprehensive transgender healthcare services and do our best to serve the entire queer community,” Dr. Wang adds.

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Learn more and find a provider

If you have questions or would like to learn more about the LGBTQI+ Initiative efforts at Swedish, visit our transgender health website.

For referrals, help with coordination or general information about transgender health at Swedish, please call 1-866-366-0926.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Other health equity-related resources

Raising awareness of health disparities that affect LGBT communities

Swedish scholarships increase diversity among doulas

Connecting communities to the COVID-19 vaccine

One-of-a-kind camp in the Pacific Northwest provides transformational experience for LGBTQ+ youth

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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