AMA Wire

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

News for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Physicians

HRC releases survey on health care equality

HRC releases survey on health care equality

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has released its 2013 Healthcare Equality Index (HEI), a voluntary annual online survey that evaluates the quality and equity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) care among health care organizations nationwide.

In the 2013 HEI, an unprecedented 464 health care facilities—representing 74 percent of total participants—met all four core criteria for LGBT patient-centered care, earning the coveted status of "2013 Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality." The four core criteria cover patient nondiscrimination, equal visitation, employment nondiscrimination and training in LGBT patient-centered care. You can search for institutions by state on the HRC's website.

One of the biggest improvements was among Veterans Administration (VA) medical centers. In 2013, nearly 80 percent of VA medical centers voluntarily participated in the HEI. An impressive 76 percent were awarded equality leader status, a higher percentage of leaders than for 2013 HEI respondents as a whole. This improvement likely is due in part to the workgroup created by the U.S. Veterans Health Administration to identify ways to optimize care for the nation's LGBT veterans in the wake of the 2011 repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius lauded the HEI as an important LGBT resource. "When we find ourselves in a health care setting, we are often at our most vulnerable," Sebelius said in a recent speech.

"At these moments, being treated with dignity and being close to loved ones can be the most important things," she said. "The HEI is an important tool for making sure that LGBT people are treated with the same respect and care in these situations as everyone wants to be treated. It shines a light on what our country's health care institutions are doing to serve their LGBT patients."

AMA policy supports LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies and physician training in LGBT care. Visit the Web page of the AMA Committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues for resources on providing competent care to LGBT patients.

Blood donation ban for gay men in the spotlight

Hundreds of gay and bisexual men arrived last month at blood donation centers around the country to protest the Federal Drug Administration's (FDA) lifetime ban for donations by men who have had sex with another man at any time since 1977. 

The protest has brought the FDA's decades-old policy back into the media spotlight, including national outlets like The New Yorker and NBC News.

Opponents of the ban believe it is outdated, a relic of the 1980s AIDS crisis in which testing for HIV in donated blood was more difficult.

"The ban just doesn't make sense," Susan Stramer, executive scientific officer of the American Red Cross and president of the American Association of Blood Banks, said. "Blood centers now have the capability to deal with HIV-positive donors, and it's time for use to harmonize our deferral policy."

Other advocates point out that a substantial number of heterosexual people also pose a high risk and don't face a lifetime ban.

"This is about behavior; it's not about being gay," Barry Zingman, MD, medical director of the AIDS Center at Montefiore Medical Center and a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said. "The policy stigmatizes gay men. It limits the donation pool, it's not medically justified, and it's not right."

At its Annual Meeting in June, the AMA passed new policy that opposes the lifetime deferral for men who have sex with men in favor of deferral periods that are fairly and consistently applied to donors according to their level of risk. The AMA believes risk-based policies can reduce discrimination while protecting and increasing the nation's donated blood supply.