Optum launches provider education program on caring for LGBTQ patients

The outside of Optum's headquarters
OptumHealth has launched a new education program that aims to improve care for LGBTQ patients. (UnitedHealth Group)

OptumHealth has launched an accredited, free online course that aims to help providers care more effectively for LGBTQ patients.

The education program discusses the impacts bias and stigma can have on the physical and mental health of LGBTQ people and offers guidance on communicating respectfully with these patients, including the use of appropriate pronouns.

The goal, Optum said, is to ensure LGBTQ patients are able to seek care in a welcoming and validating space. An estimated 8% of lesbian, gay and bisexual patients report being denied healthcare services, as have 27% of transgender patients.

Amy Nguyen Howell, M.D., Optum senior medical director and chief of the Office of Provider Advancement, told Fierce Healthcare that the program fits within the broader focus across UnitedHealth Group on health equity.

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"It really stems from UnitedHealth Group’s commitment to advancing health equity," Howell said. "[LGBTQ patients] really experience these inequities in care and it has a dramatic and drastic impact on their overall well-being."

Providers who want to enroll in the course can log in at OptumHealthEducation.com and are eligible to receive continuing education credits upon completion. The session is available on-demand, so participants can view it at their convenience.

Howell said the Optum team designed the program purposefully to be accessible for providers and also to ensure it presented information to them in a way that reflects how they best learn.

"It starts by explaining the 'why' and 'how,' which is very powerful when it comes to educating providers, especially educating physicians because we’re scientists," she said.

The program was developed in partnership with OutCare Health, a national nonprofit that focuses on health equity for the LGBTQ community. OutCare offers provider directories, public resources, mentorship and cultural competency training.

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“We’re proud to launch this educational series with OptumHealth Education and Optum, and to address these disparities head-on,” said OutCare Health founder and President Dustin Nowaskie, M.D., in a statement. “Working with one of the leading health care services companies in the United States to design this training means we can reach more providers and make a meaningful impact on the barriers LGBTQ+ people experience within the health care system.”

Howell said Optum initially launched the program internally with its Optum California team and got "resoundingly positive feedback" on the experience. She said the ability to communicate better with LGBTQ patients, particularly patients who are transgender, resonated strongly with docs.

The course, she said, "provides those kinds of 'ah-ha' moments for them."

The Optum team is looking to build on the existing session with future modules that dig further into the concepts introduced in the program, such as more in-depth content on caring specifically for transgender patients, Howell said.

"It does look to educate the provider through the lens of how a provider would care for a patient," Howell said. "It does speak to how we would approach a patient, face-to-face or virtual."