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Insensitive questioning from doctor

Apr 8, 2011

I'm not sure if this is the right place for this question, or if there is indeed a right place for this question on this site. I recently visited a gastroenterologist at a regionally prominent academic (university) medical center for suspected IBS. This university and this medical center both have non-discrimination policies that enumerate protected categories, including sexual orientation. I once felt reasonably comfortable here and was proud to note that this was my health system of choice. Immediately upon discovering I was HIV-positive, this gastroenterologist asked, "Are you a homosexual?" No expression of empathy. No sign that he was merely trying to gauge my risk factors (even if he were, I found the way he went about it was incredibly insensitive if not callous). After performing a history, he also asked me what I wanted to do. This was before noting any options. I said I understood it was a standard part of diagnosing IBS to check for differentials, and it was only then that he performed any sort of physical examination and subsequently recommended tests and treatment. I now feel far less welcome in the place of healing I once felt proud call my hospital. My questions, then: Am I blowing this all out of proportion; might I be misinterpreting his brusque questioning? How might I cope with negative attitudes from a trusted authority and the resulting decline in confidence in the equity of care at this healthcare system? Where might I turn for help, especially considering that I live in one of the most conservative states in the nation?

Response from Dr. Fawcett

I feel you have every right to be upset at the manner in which you were treated at this facility. It's a somber reminder that insensitivity and even stigma are present at many institutions. Virtually every health care worker is trained in areas of "cultural competency," which simply means the ability to interact with a variety of different people in such a way that enhances the delivery of health services without offensive or off-putting statements (inadvertent or not). Your trust in your health care workers and an ability to interact comfortably with them is critical for your health; you may need change providers. It is probably you are not the only one experiencing this. I would contact the institution's patient advocate or ombudsman and share your experience - it could help a lot of people.

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