Gaping holes exist in data on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and more research into their lifestyles is needed for medical authorities to better serve them, a report shows.
The report, authored by the Institute of Medicine and commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found a staggering lack of research on LGBT individuals.
It lays the groundwork to close that information gap, suggesting more research into social influences, barriers to equitable health care and the differing needs of various generations of LGBT people.
A risk of depression and suicide
"This is a sea change in establishing the scientific importance of research in LGBT health," said Dr Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University and a contributor to the report.
The report summarised what many researchers already know about the population, including that LGB youths are at increased risk for suicide and depression, that HIV-AIDS primarily affects young black men who have sex with other men and that LGBT people are frequently targets of discrimination and violence.
Most practitioners, however, are not well educated in how to care for the LGBT population, including understanding sexual orientation development, gender identity and the impact of stigma and discrimination on health, the report said.
Affects doctors' ability
All this matters because it affects doctors' ability to ask the right questions about support at home, to make referrals, and to order the proper tests for physical and mental health care, Dr Ryan said.
With a clearer picture of the patients they serve, doctors can provide better healthcare, policy makers can fund appropriate prevention programs and researchers will understand which problems need more study, Dr Ryan said.
One of the best ways to gather data would be to include questions on existing surveys used by health departments to collect information about the general population, the report said.
"The inclusion of questions on sexual orientation and gender identity on federally funded surveys, if it occurs, is a huge step forward in understanding LGBT health issues and disparities," said Dr Ryan.
Different healthcare needs
Judith Bradford, director of the centre for population research in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health at The Fenway Institute, credited the report with shining a spotlight on the fact that the LGBT community has different healthcare needs.
For example, older LGBT individuals are less likely to have children than their heterosexual counterparts, and less likely to receive care from adult children, said Bradford.
She said particular attention needs to be paid to ensuring that as the LGBT community ages, there will be appropriate health services available.
Dr Harvey Makadon, director of education at The Fenway Institute and a contributor to the report, said clinicians need to feel comfortable talking about sexual orientation and gender identity and to understand what to do with that information. (Reuters Health/ March 2011)