TV’s Dr Christian: Pride in Practice

Publish Date: 13/01/2012

Dr Christian Jessen is perhaps most well known for his work on the BAFTA award winning TV show Embarrassing Bodies.

A respected doctor, Jessen graduated from University College London in 2000, having trained in general medicine, infectious disease, travel medicine and sexual health/HIV. He now works at Doctorcall, on the world famous Harley Street.

Alongside his healthcare and TV commitments, he somehow finds time to write health columns for Closer and Attitude magazines.

Here, Dr Christian talks about how GPs can challenge homophobia in healthcare, how their lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) patients can help, and why he’s supporting Pride in Practice - NHS North West’s and The LGF’s new patient standard for excellence in LGB healthcare...

As a gay man how did you find medical school? It has been reported that UK medical students commonly experience homophobia?

I was lucky as I studied in London and quickly went into sexual health and HIV where most doctors are open-minded.

I did notice however that in some areas, particularly older doctors’ attitudes, could be quite shocking with regards to homophobia, especially with openly gay students.

Dr. Christian JessenAs a healthcare professional do you think it is beneficial to be aware of your patient’s sexual orientation?

I think it’s important, but you shouldn’t assume you know if a person is lesbian or gay, even if you base your opinion on a person’s appearance or behaviour.

I always ask about sexual partners in regards to sexual health but it isn’t always relevant as it depends in what area you are working. However, when it comes to chronic illness, understanding a patient’s sexual orientation and how it affects their lifestyle could be very relevant.

If you are a GP it is very important to know your patient, especially when it comes to sexually transmitted infections and HIV, as we all know men who have sex with men are a particularly high risk group in this area.

A lot of patients are understandably embarrassed to talk about sex and sexual health, but it is important for doctors to ask questions when it is relevant to their patients health.

Does a patient’s sexual orientation have an impact on diagnosis and treatment, given the evidence of some health and wellbeing conditions being more prevalent in LGB communities?

I think the younger generation of doctors are better briefed about how a person’s sexual orientation can have an impact on their health and wellbeing.

In general older doctors find it harder and their experience of LGB patients’ needs may be limited. I think it’s also true to say that religion can play a big part in how some health professionals treat gay patients.

I don’t think it should however and as a GP it isn’t acceptable to show disapproval about a patient being gay or lesbian. GP’s do need to get used to a person’s sexual orientation and accept it.

Issues such as depression, body dysmorphia, substance misuse and other mental health issues do disproportionately affect LGB people.

Dr. Christian JessenDo you think that Sexual Orientation Monitoring is important in building a picture of the LGB community’s health and wellbeing needs?

Sexual Orientation monitoring is important.

GP’s need to understand it is useful and patients need to know why those questions are asked. For example, we wouldn’t get the data around the rates of HIV amongst men who have sex with men if the question wasn’t asked.

Do you feel that health care providers are doing all they can at the moment to be supportive and accessible to their LGB patients?

Yes and No! Are we doing enough to ensure that doctors have good consultations with their patients?

I think many doctors worry about doing or saying the wrong thing. In sexual health I don’t think it’s as much of an issue but with many chronic conditions there can be issues.

What do you think that GPs and health care providers can do to be more supportive of their LGB patients?

Understand about the different life problems and lifestyles of LGB people. This is something that isn’t covered at medical school. More GPs taking an interest in different communities would help here.

When I do a consultation I find it helps to understand the patient. Using the right language can help a patient relax too, especially when it comes to talking about personal things like sex. Using language that is more comfortable for the patient is really important.

Also as an individual, lesbian, gay and bisexual people can help by informing their GP about their sexual orientation.

It wouldn’t be helpful to criticise doctors too much though as they have an awful lot of information to digest, so something like offering tips and advice on how to talk to LGB patients would be extremely useful.

It would also be useful to offer LGB patients some tips on how to get the best from their GP too!

What support do you think GPs themselves need in becoming more open and accessible to the needs of their LGB patients?

GPs are going to have to be more accommodating to all of their patients needs.

It’s important to remember that patients have a choice about which GP practice they use, especially as these days they have to run more like a business, it is in the interests of practices to show that they are welcoming to lesbian, gay and bisexual patients.

Advertising LGB support services is really important.  If a practice isn’t willing to share information on services that are available for LGB people then there needs to be more pressure put on it.

Do you think that projects like ‘Pride in Practice’ will have a positive impact on healthcare for LGB patients?

I fully approve of this. GPs have a lot to learn and don’t have much time so the more help that they can get in this area is incredibly helpful and really useful.

I think Pride in Practice is a great initiative.

How would you encourage LGB patients to get the best service to suit their needs, from their healthcare provider?

Help your GP as much as possible.  Don’t expect them to know that you are LGB, or to understand what your health needs as a lesbian, gay or bisexual person might be. They aren’t all well informed in this area but you can help inform them!

How would you encourage GPs to better support their LGB patients?

If you are a gay man or woman sitting in a waiting room it is important to know that your local GP has a poster or leaflets promoting local LGB support services.  GPs should demonstrate that they are open and receptive to their patient’s needs.

Simply by putting up a poster in their waiting room advertising LGB support can really help demonstrate that you are welcoming and willing to understand your LGB patients’ needs.

For more on Dr Christian visit: www.drchristianjessen.com

If you would like to attend the launch of Pride in Practice on February 14th at The Lesbian & Gay Foundation’s Community Resource Centre, or if you would like more information on the project please contact pip@lgf.org.uk.

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