Maintaining the highest standards of data security is essential for every medical practice. After all, there are few things more personal, or more important, than a patient’s private health information.
However, for patients who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, the issue of data privacy assumes a new level of importance. For these patients, the ability to ensure their private information is, indeed, private, is often critical not only to their health and well-being but to their safety.
Let’s examine the issue of data privacy for LGBTQ+ patients and the healthcare provider’s role in protecting it.
The Unique Importance of Privacy for LGBTQ+ Patients
Securing patient data both in the physical clinic and across the clinic’s IT network is a core responsibility for any healthcare provider. Unauthorized access to patient data can result in serious damage to the patient. The exploitation of medical data may subject patients to insurance or other forms of financial fraud, impact their ability to find employment or secure insurance, and detrimentally affect their social and familial relationships.
For patients who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, however, the ramifications of a data breach can be far more significant. The exposure of the private medical data of LGBTQ+ persons may result in marginalization, discrimination, and even violence within their families, schools, workplaces, and communities.
For patients who are minors, the sharing of private health information, even with parents, can lead to severe conflict and the potential for emotional and physical abuse.
For this reason, healthcare providers need to develop comprehensive strategies for safeguarding the private information of LGBTQ+ patients, including minors. This should also include policies for using technology to ensure data privacy.
The Role of Data Encryption
Healthcare practices today are increasingly being digitized. From the ascendancy of electronic medical records (EMR) to the rise of telehealth services, massive volumes of private health data are being collected, stored, and communicated on digital platforms.
For this reason, robust security systems installed across all platforms where patient information may appear or be transmitted is imperative. A particularly important approach would be the integration of controls on all data storage and communication tech that would encrypt patient records and all health-related communications.
Further, these controls should preclude the access and transmission of patient records or text and email communications with or about patients outside of a secure portal. Ensure that materials are encrypted and that data storage, access, and transmission can only occur on platforms that are protected by passwords, firewalls, and/or VPNs.
Queer-friendly Clinical Practices
Maintaining the data privacy of LGBTQ+ patients is essential across all domains of healthcare and is by no means limited only to physical healthcare. Access to quality mental healthcare is important for all patient populations.
However, for members of the LGBTQ+ community, the ability to access queer-friendly mental healthcare can be especially significant. These patient populations are far more likely than the general population to experience stigmatization, marginalization, and associated traumas.
Queer-friendly therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists must embrace the same rigorous standards regarding the privacy of LGBTQ+ patients’ data as medical care providers. At the same time, these professional practices, and the secure technologies clinicians use to implement them, should be a significant aspect of doctor/patient communication.
The assurance that their sensitive data will be respected and protected may well mean the difference between patients’ opting to receive care or continuing to suffer without it.
Protecting patient data is a vital concern for healthcare providers, regardless of the particular patient populations they serve. However, for clinicians serving patients who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, the issue of data privacy is a particularly critical one. The theft or misuse of these patients’ data can not only subject the patient to financial, professional, and social harm, but it may also jeopardize their safety.
Health technologies can play an especially crucial role in enabling healthcare providers to better protect the personal data of their LGBTQ+ patients. This includes the use of encryption for all patient records and communications. Healthcare technologies must also be designed to prohibit use outside of highly secure portals. It also involves the foregrounding of privacy protection practices and technologies in queer-friendly physical and mental healthcare.