By Kerry-Ann Kelly, M.D., M.P.H., Board Certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist; Medical Director of Innovation & Health Equity, Simple HealthKit

For the LGBTQ+ population, discrimination goes beyond the abuse and exclusion they experience in their jobs, schools and communities, but can also have a serious impact on their health.

The 19th News published an extensive survey, sharing that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be refused medical service, blamed for their health problems and discriminated against than cisgender and heterosexual people. The article goes on to point out that while the Biden administration “bars federally funded health care providers from discriminating against patients for their sexual orientation or gender identity, 13 percent of LGBTQ+ Americans still live in a state with laws that allow medical professionals to decline to serve them based on religious beliefs.”

This is especially problematic for the LGBTQ+ community as they face higher risks for serious, chronic health conditions including heart disease, diabetes and STIs.

Here are some troubling facts: STIs are up and are disproportionately affecting gay and bisexual men. The strain of constant stress in the LGBTQ+ community from fear of violence and discrimination affects the heart through chronic inflammation and increased blood pressure and heart rate. In addition to heart disease, stress also plays a significant role in cases of diabetes, where risk factors like depression, smoking and drinking have a higher prevalence in the LGBTQ+ community.  

And for those in the LGBTQ+ community living in rural areas and in healthcare deserts, this becomes a complicated problem because of a lack of primary care doctors available and travel difficulties in seeing a physician in person regularly.

But as we learned during COVID, technology and at-home diagnostics can play an important role in breaking down barriers, improving access to healthcare, and allowing patients more control in taking proactive steps to early diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases. Here’s how we need to carry that ball forward, especially for the LGBTQ+ community.

  • At home tests – Certainly people became very comfortable with rapid response at-home tests during the pandemic, but there are also lab-tested, high quality at-home tests available for a variety of health conditions, including STIs, respiratory health, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. These tests are just as reliable as the ones you would take in a doctor’s office, and patients can get them discreetly mailed to their home, collect the sample, mail it back to a CLIA-certified lab and have results in often 24-48 hours via a portal they can access on their computer or smartphone. There are now services available such as ours at Simple HealthKit, that go beyond the test to help patients set up follow up telehealth visits and receive treatment.

For the LGBTQ+ community living in healthcare deserts or simply experiencing prejudice and discrimination at in-person offices, this can be a game changer in terms of better, more routine healthcare visits, early diagnosis and treatment of conditions, and stopping the spread of communicable diseases.

  • At home healthcare – At-home health services are experiencing a big surge as medical technology and testing capabilities continue to accelerate and people feel more comfortable having visits in the privacy and convenience of their own home. For example, MedArrive continues to raise money and expand its services to bring field providers into the home, offering healthcare for vulnerable and disengaged populations. This is yet another way for those who feel marginalized, like the LGBTQ+ population, to access high quality healthcare and take proactive steps to stay well from the privacy of their own home.
  • Telehealth – COVID certainly changed American’s comfort level with telehealth appointments, and it is now an integral part of our healthcare system. According to the CDC, in 2021 37% of adults used telemedicine in the last 12 months. With more people having access to WIFI and personal computers and/or smartphones, telehealth appointments with providers have become a very convenient option for follow up care and filling prescriptions for necessary medications. When it can be integrated into a system that provides at-home testing and at-home care, it’s even more convenient for people who are apprehensive or unable to make regular in-person appointments.

As we continue to fight the good fight this Pride month (and the eleven other months of the year!) to break down barriers, educate people on LGBTQ+ issues, and eliminate prejudices, innovations in digital healthcare and at-home services can play a significant role in providing proactive, preventative healthcare options for this important community.