Ah, January — the time when we contemplate resolutions to change, improve and make a difference. Maybe we pledge to start eating better or exercising more, to cut back on caffeine or save more money, to spend more time volunteering for a worthy cause.
All of these are worthy goals but this year, I invite you to join me in a resolution for 2018 and beyond, a pledge that will fortify your mind, body and soul: “I hereby pledge, every day, to build a healthier me.” I’ve learned that maintaining good health is often the sum of countless small decisions I make every day — to eat right, take the stairs, walk to work or call a friend.
This year, I’m adding one more small decision that I know will make a big difference: I’m going to build a better relationship with my doctor.
I can tell you, this isn’t going to be easy for me. Multiple studies show that LGBT individuals don’t see their doctor regularly, or are reluctant to share sensitive health matters with their doctors. I hail from an era where the health-care industry assumed I was heterosexual, which I am not. Intake forms asked if I was “single” or “married,” and I was neither. If I checked off “married,” it went on to ask questions about my “husband.”
When I mentioned I was partnered with a woman, I was often met with the telltale rise of the eyebrows, or an “oh,” or “hmmm,” followed by the questioner’s eyes averting downward. The inability of my physician’s office to recognize and embrace my sexual orientation, and provide me with an avenue to disclose it, led to limited health-care discussions on my part.
Thankfully, health care has changed significantly over the years. At a recent wellness visit, I was asked questions that allowed me to affirm my homosexuality, which opened up to a healthy, focused discussion on my health as a lesbian.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to caring for people’s health. At Health Partners Plans, we make sure we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. With cultural-sensitivity training for our employees and doctors, workshops and events tailored to the LGBT community and more initiatives, we constantly work to ensure our members are treated as individuals with unique health and social needs. You, too, have the right to feel comfortable discussing your health issues with an understanding health professional in a safe environment. This will require you to empower yourself to claim the care you deserve.
Take the opportunity to share your authentic self. Ask questions. If your doctor uses jargon or words you don’t understand, stop the conversation and ask for clarity. Your PCP’s office should be a safe haven for you to discuss health and other issues, and learn how to prevent or manage disease and boost vitality.
How do you know if your doctor is right for you? If you can be open and honest about your health questions and up front about your sexuality, you’re probably seeing the right doctor. If you’d rather ask a friend or “Dr. Google” a health question or you are reluctant, or even afraid, to speak with your doctor about your sexuality, your sexual health, or any health-related issue, it’s probably time to find someone new.
Physician offices have become increasingly aware and sensitive to the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of the LGBT community. You can often find them in the community health centers in your area or organizations that provide comprehensive health services, like Philadelphia FIGHT or the Mazzoni Center. Or you can ask a friend who their primary doctor is and visit their office to see if it’s right for you.
So make the commitment to take the leading role in your health and well-being. Claim the relationship you deserve with your health-care provider. Our community and this world need you. Live the life you deserve. Take that first step today.
Michelle Davidson is the Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing at Health Partners Plans, a health maintenance organization serving more than 280,000 Pennsylvanians with the tools and care they need to lead happy, healthy lives.