Lesbians are less likely to seek routine health care because of the discomfort of coming out to health care professionals; they also may lack access to health insurance or lack the financial resources to get medical services. With fewer doctor visits, lesbian and bisexual women are less likely to have mammograms and professional breast exams. Additionally, because lesbian and bisexual women are less likely to need birth control, they are less likely to have regular gynecological check-ups and Pap tests. Choosing a health care professional who is comfortable and experienced discussing lesbian health issues are important to ensuring that your health care needs are properly addressed. The Gay & Lesbian Medical Association provides a helpful physician referral service located at http://www.glma.org/programs/prp/index.shtml. The GayHealth web site also has a healthcare provider referral service located at http://www.gayhealth.com.
Ask questions! Asking questions is key to getting what you want from the visit — no matter what type of medical visit it is. If you're visiting a health care professional for a wellness checkup, ask about:
- ways to make your lifestyle healthier, including your dietary and exercise practices
- when to schedule health screenings and regular office visits
- which screenings you should pursue.
If your health care professional recommends a test or treatment option, ask:
- Why is this option is recommended?
- What is the test or treatment is designed to do?
- Are there other treatments or options I should consider?
- How can I find out if my insurance will pay for the recommended test or treatment?
- Whom should I call to find out test results and when? (Make sure you always receive a complete report on any tests you have done).
Speak up. Share your point of view with your health care professional. No one knows your body or the habits and lifestyle of a person in your care as well as you do. Your health care professional needs to know what's working and what's not.
Follow up. It's important to follow your health care professional's instructions exactly they way he or she prescribed them. Ask if there is a circumstance in which you should discontinue the medication, but in general, don't stop taking any medications unless you are instructed to do so. If you feel any negative side effects, call your health care professional immediately. If your symptoms or condition require a follow-up visit, ask:
- when you should schedule your next visit
- what, if anything, you should do or not do until your next visit.
Copyright 2003 National Women's Health Resource Center Inc. (NWHRC)