A landmark federal assessment emphasizes that medical research and data is straight-centric, overlooking LGBT populations and ignoring the unique needs of the community.
On March 31, the Institute of Medicine released a report recommending that researchers engage LGBT people in health studies and collect data about the populations to better understand health conditions that affect them.
The report reminded many in the medical field of studies from prior decades that emphasized that medical research focused on white men, ignoring the impact of disease and treatment on women and people of color.
“It’s easy to assume that because we are all humans, gender, race or other characteristics of study participants shouldn’t matter in health research, but they certainly do,” said professor Robert Graham of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “It was only when researchers made deliberate efforts to engage women and racial and ethnic minorities in studies that we discovered differences in how some diseases occur in and affect specific populations. Routine collection of information on race and ethnicity has expanded our understanding of conditions that are more prevalent among various groups or that affect them differently. We should strive for the same attention to and engagement of sexual and gender minorities in health research.”
Graham chaired the committee that prepared “The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding,” which was written to offer an overview of the state of healthcare and health research for LGBT Americans.
As with studies of other minority populations, this study concluded that creating a comprehensive overview of healthcare for LGBT people is problematic because so much research fails to take sexual orientation or gender identity into consideration.
The researchers, reporting to the National Institutes of Health, recommended that federally funded surveys ask about sexual orientation and gender identity, just as they already ask about sex, race and ethnicity.
The study also suggested that information on patient’s sexual orientation and gender identity be collected in electronic health records and that the NIH develop measures of sexual orientation and gender identity for use in federal surveys.
Commenting on the recommendations, Gary J. Gates of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, said, “I applaud the IOM report’s clarion call for LGBT inclusion in federal data sources and within publicly funded research. Let’s hope that federal statistical agencies charged with collecting data designed to measure the health and economic well-being of the American population will heed this call.”
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, called the federal review a vital first step toward eliminating disparities, and announced a second major step. She’s planning to introduce the Ending LGBT Health Disparities Act to builds on recommendations in the study.
“For years … I have asked our national health policy officials and medical experts, ‘What do you know about LGBT health?’ Only to hear, ‘I have to get back to you.’ Today, we’ve gotten a well-researched and most welcome response. I am delighted that after years of advocating for more attention to LGBT health disparities, IOM’s report will bring us closer to the goal of promoting good health for all Americans,” Baldwin said.