Where Optometry Meets Public Health
“Healthcare accessibility” and “social determinants of health” are certainly buzzwords in the setting of public health. Even without public health training, it would not be difficult to anecdotally realize that there are undeniable, and sometimes insurmountable, barriers to healthcare.
Many studies performed over the past few decades report that members who identify as being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) face many adversities on their quest to acquire healthcare services including struggles with affordability, discrimination, and stigma.
Unfortunately, in combination with these misfortunes, members of the LGBT community suffer from higher rates of many diseases (such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and HIV/AIDS to name a few) than their non-LGBT counterparts.
For systemic disorders with ophthalmic manifestations, it would behoove the optometrist to, at minimum, appreciate that there exists a very accessible social group who deem the healthcare system inaccessible and they are facing higher rates of treatable and manageable systemic and ocular diseases than others.
How Optometry Contribute to LGBT Healthcare
Public health is, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control, “the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities.” Therefore, optometry is undeniably a public health profession.
An optometrist manages and co-manages both ocular and systemic health, educates each patient on optimizing their health (via diet, exercise, medication and appointment compliance, etc.), and lobbies politically to ensure legal protections for their patients. This lobbying most notably takes the form of standing against online contact lens vendors, online “eye exam” websites, etc.
Optometrists can also contribute to improving healthcare access for the LGBT population of patients.
Methods can include: registering you practice into LGBT-provider directories, customizing patient intake forms for the inclusion of multiple gender identities, providing visual cues in-office (i.e. a non-discrimination statement, LGBT health-focused brochures, etc.), and establishing strong relationships with LGBT-competent providers that can serve as a referral network for your patients.
Optometry is more than just glasses and contact lenses. It’s about being a part of a healthcare system that aims to treat the whole person.
However, to treat the whole person you have to know the whole person. Gender identity, sexual orientation, and potential barriers to care are all things that must be considered to properly reach and treat the whole patient.
About the Author: Dominic Brown
Dominic is a third year Optometry student at the Salus University Pennsylvania College of Optometry. He currently serves as class president, and is concurrently enrolled in the Masters in Public Health program at his institution. He is very passionate about LGBT healthcare accessibility. In the future, Dominic hopes to pursue a residency and ultimately work in either a group or private practice setting.