AMA delegates adopt policies on conversion therapy ban, racial pay equity and LGBTQ health issues

doctor sitting at desk consulting with patient
American Medical Association delegates adopted a policy in support of measures to eliminate racial pay disparity in medicine. (DMEPhotography/GettyImages)

The American Medical Association (AMA) took on some weighty social issues at its 2019 Interim Meeting Monday, including racial pay equity in medicine and LGBTQ health issues.

The AMA’s House of Delegates is a policymaking body made up of physicians, medical students and residents creating a national physician consensus on emerging issues in public health, science and ethics.

Here’s a brief rundown of the new policies approved by AMA’s House of Delegates.

Support for conversion therapy ban

In a new policy, the AMA will develop model state legislation and advocate for federal legislation to ban so-called reparative or conversion therapy for sexual orientation or gender identity. The support for legislative bans strengthens AMA’s long-standing opposition to the unscientific practice.

The AMA heard testimony, including firsthand accounts, regarding the significant harms triggered by conversion therapy, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts and attempts, the organization said.

AMA board member William Kobler, M.D., said conversion therapy needs to end in the U.S. given the risk of deliberate harm to LGBTQ people. “Conversion therapy has no foundation as scientifically valid medical care and lacks credible evidence to support its efficacy or safety,” Kobler said in a statement.

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Only 18 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have banned conversion therapy for people younger than 18, and no states have banned conversion therapy for adults. The AMA agrees with medical experts that the lack of regulation on conversion therapy opens the door to fraud, harm and potential trauma for adults and children.

Fully inclusive EHRs for transgender patients

The AMA strengthened its existing policy promoting inclusive gender, sex and sexual orientation options in medical documentation for LGBTQ patients. Failure of electronic health records to promote inclusive medical documentation is a major barrier to providing quality care to transgender patients, the AMA said.

The organization is advocating the voluntary inclusion of a transgender patient’s preferred name and clinically relevant sex-specific anatomy in medical documentation.

“Without this information, transgender patients and their specific health care needs cannot be identified or documented, the health disparities they experience cannot be addressed, and the provision of important health care services may not be delivered,” Kobler said.

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Medical training on health issues related to gender identity, sexual orientation

To improve health equity, AMA delegates want medical students and residents to have a better understanding of the health issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a new policy, the organization encourages medical schools to continue to encourage and periodically reassess education on health issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity in the basic science, clinical care and cultural competency curricula in medical school and residency programs.

Advancing racial pay equity

AMA delegates adopted a policy in support of measures to eliminate racial pay disparity in medicine. Studies show that a racial imbalance in wages has been a pervasive issue that exists among physicians in the same medical specialty.

“The statistics on racial pay disparities in medicine are jarring, and more must be done to spur change and eliminate the imbalance and bias that adversely affect members of our profession,” AMA board member Michael Suk, M.D., said. “The new policy is a step in the right direction for bringing positive change to physicians of color and strengthening the AMA’s commitment to improving equity in medicine.”

The AMA plans to work with stakeholders to study effective and appropriate measures to increase the transparency and accountability of physician earnings through established transparency measures in which physicians can access information including but not limited to the salaries, race and ethnicity of physicians.