The Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) is the Human Rights Campaign’s national benchmarking tool used to evaluate healthcare facilities, their policies, and practices as they relate to the fair and equal treatment of LGBTQ patients, visitors, and employees. Since its conception, the HEI has encouraged and educated healthcare facilities across the United States to adopt LGBTQ-inclusive policies for all who may pass through their doors. Now with 12 years of experience in pushing for progress, the HEI and its healthcare partners are working harder than ever to promote and provide equitable care for the entire community.

The inclusion mindset takes five pillars of care into consideration: 1) Non-Discrimination and Staff Training, 2) Patient Services & Support, 3) Employee Benefits & Policies, 4) Patient & Community Engagement, and 5) Responsible Citizenship. Success in each of these areas demonstrates a facility’s ability to ensure foundational protection for its patients through inclusion, support, and public commitment to the LGBTQ community.

The importance of a program such as the Healthcare Equality Index is not lost on medical providers, given the drastic disparities between LGBTQ and cisgender, heterosexual patients. Jama Internal Medicine published a report on LGBTQ health statistics in 2016 that evaluated the health outcomes of nearly 69,000 participants. The report revealed that gay and bisexual men are more likely to suffer from psychological distress and chronic conditions than their heterosexual peers, and that lesbian and bisexual women are also more like to experience these afflictions than heterosexual women. Many of the problems with LGBTQ adults stems from interpersonal stressors and institutional discrimination – suggesting that clinicians have some work to do in learning how to deliver equitable care.

The key to improving healthcare outcomes of this vulnerable population is multi-faceted, and that’s where the HEI comes into play – by providing a database of facilities dedicated to inclusive care. LGBTQ patients need to feel safe enough to regularly see a doctor for check-ups, health screenings, and other modes of clinical care. In order to make that happen, providers need to make an effort in understanding LGBTQ bodies, concerns, and elevated risk factors. While these sexual minorities are slowly reaching a point of acceptance, there is a lot of work to be done before the social and health disparities disintegrate. Healthcare providers and administrators alike should educate themselves on the unique needs, languages, and cultural nuances of this under-served community.