Margaret Dimond, PhD, LMSW

Lesbian Parent Experiences with Their Health Care Providers

Communication is the foundation of any strong patient-provider relationship. There is substantial evidence to suggest that openness on the part of the physician, along with a strong sense of trust on the part of the patient is critical to supporting a positive health care relationship. People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) have historically faced challenges finding physicians who are non-judgmental about patient sexual orientation and who are competent to navigate the unique issues facing the LGBT population. This study sought to provide an in-depth exploration of the interactions between lesbian parent families and their physicians to learn more about the characteristics that support strong relationships between patients and providers for this population.

This study expands upon foundational research on lesbian mothers conducted by Mercier in 1999. This study used the respondent pool established by Mercier (PhD 1998) to explore the perception of health care providers and factors that create a supportive patient-provider relationship among lesbian parents. Quantitative data were collected from respondents who completed the Lesbian Parent Health Care Survey. A subset of survey respondents volunteered for a subsequent phone interview that used a structured guide to gather in-depth qualitative data related to their health care experiences and the characteristics they seek in a health care provider for themselves and their families.

The results of the study reflect significant progress in the perceptions of the patient-provider relationship as compared to prior studies, and that open and supportive communication is the primary driver of satisfaction for lesbian-parent patients. Furthermore, being able to come out to a provider and disclose sexual orientation was considered critical to providing a basis for patient satisfaction with their physician.

The majority of respondents in the study preferred female physicians, and physicians’ sexual orientation was immaterial to patient satisfaction. Although some respondents did relate negative experiences in some instances, their overall perception of their health care relationships was positive, and this is attributed largely to carefully screening providers and consciously working to build rapport that supports open communication, trust, and an empathetic relationship.

Implications of the study for policy, practice, and research, as well as for educating health care providers, are discussed. Recommendations for practice and education for physicians and social workers are presented as an important factor in decreasing negative or biased attitudes towards lesbian families. Future research with lesbian parents, based on the concepts of social identity theory, and social minority groups is also suggested.