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Neutral Language in Patient Care

PT in Motion recently reported on a newfield guidecreated by theJoint Commissionthaturges US health care providers to create a more inclusive and safe environment for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals. The new guide points out that LBGT patients struggle with overall lowered health status, higher rates of substance abuse, higher risk for anxiety or depression, and decreased access to insurance and health care services. Additionally, LGBT patients are not treated equally, facing refusals of care or delayed care, leading to distrust of the health care system.

One of the strategies described in the guide that will help improve communication and inclusion is the use of neutral language on commonly used forms. In a hospital this may include admission forms, in a clinic, all intake forms can use the term "partner", or "parent/guardian" may be substituted for father or mother. Verbal communication should also be free of assumptions. For example, "are you married?" implies heterosexuality to most people. Instead of referring to husband or wife, the guide suggests that you can ask, "Who are the important people in your life?", or, "Who is family to you?" Listening to and reflecting the patient's choice of language can demonstrate inclusion and help your patient feel more able to reply honestly.

Other concepts are shared towards creating a welcoming environment.For example, does your health care setting have a non-discrimination policy? Perhaps it could be more prominently displayed to demonstrate that your work environment does not tolerate discrimination of any type. Images of or descriptions of "family" should include various structures of family, including same sex couples. Your clinic can also display LGBT-friendly symbols such as the rainbow flag, the pink triangle, or a "Safe Zone" sign. Having a unisex or a single stall restroom may also be more comfortable for a patient.

There is an incredible amount of information available in this new guide, it is nearly 100 pages long and can serve as an excellent resource in your work place. The guide summarizes that "...all patients, regardless of social or personal characteristics, should be treated with dignity ad respect...and should feel comfortable providing any information relevant to their care, including information about sexual orientation and gender identity."

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