Caitlin Clement|5/18/2023|4 min read

Telehealth Facilitates Better Mental Health Care for LGBTQ+ Youth

60% of LGBTQ+ youth could not access the mental health care they needed in 2022

teenage girl on her phone and sitting at the end of her bed with a sad expression

According to a 2022 National Mental Health survey by The Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ+ youth have seriously contemplated suicide. For transgender and non-binary youth, it reaches 1 in 5. Additionally, for those who sought out mental health care in 2022, 60% of them could not access it. 

These statistics bring to light a gap in potentially life saving mental health care among LGBTQ+ youth. However, this inequity in healthcare is not anything new. Those who identify as LGBTQ+ have historically been excluded from medical research for centuries leading to a lack of knowledge, misdiagnosis and exclusionary modes of care. 

Although we are seeing an increase in culturally competent care and providers who specialize in the treatment of LGBTQ+ patients, they still aren't as widely available. This can be a problem for those who live in rural areas or don’t have the transportation or support to attend an in-person visit. This is where virtual care can close some of those gaps.

Hiring culturally competent providers is easier

For the LGBTQ+ youth population, access to providers who understand and know how to address their specific health problems can be hard to find. Most of the time, providers who specialize in LGBTQ+ treatment reside in larger cities or are the only provider for miles. 

What telehealth has been able to do is enable hospitals and health systems to hire specialty providers located in other states. This opens up the level and type of care available to their LGBTQ+ youth patients and offers them quality, inclusive care. 

They can do this by building up their own provider network, which usually includes acquiring payer contracts (this part can take some time). Or, thanks to the emergence of telehealth support companies, they can outsource a pre-vetted provider network with built-in payer networks and hire the specialist they're looking for.

More affordable mental health care

According to that same youth survey, 41% of respondents said they didn’t receive the mental health care they wanted due to cost barriers. 

Telehealth and remote care is able to remove some of the overhead administrative costs typically associated with in-person care to make it more affordable. This makes it easier to expand patient access to and treat LGBTQ+ youth facing affordability barriers. 

Additionally, patients, their caregivers and providers are able to save costs by eliminating the need for transportation and time off work. Decreased transportation needs also increases convenience and incentivizes better care adherence. Allowing both provider and patient to see better care outcomes and experiences. 

Recent policy has also extended the coverage for mental health services by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) through Dec. 2024 to include both video and audio-only modes of care. Healthcare facilities will also still be able to provide virtual mental health care with no geographic restriction for originating sites. 

Bringing inclusive care directly to the patient

One of the reasons why mental and behavioral health care has been so successful within telehealth is that it offers a previously unseen look inside how the patient lives. Additionally, the patients can take their appointment wherever they feel comfortable; in their car, at their home, with a supportive ally or anywhere there is a strong connection. 

It’s not always the case that patients, especially LGBTQ+ youth, feel safe or supported at home, and it can become a barrier to care. Being able to receive care from wherever they are may encourage more to seek help.

Tip: Stay up-to-date on state laws regarding minor consent for mental health care services. Some require parent permission to receive care while others require them to be 12, 13, or even 14 years old. 

Where healthcare facilities and providers can improve the virtual care experience

Invest in diversity and inclusion training

43% of respondents to The Trevor Project survey who wanted mental health care said they feared not being taken seriously by providers.  

The best way healthcare facilities can provide more inclusive mental health care is investing in diversity and inclusion training for its providers. By educating healthcare professionals on the unique healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ youth patients can increase the amount of positive experiences and create better care outcomes. 

The Whitman-Walker Institute offers LGBTQ+ cultural competency training programs for medical and human service providers to provide tools and terms to better meet their health needs. 

Make sure your intake and online forms are inclusive

In order for LGBTQ+ youth to feel they are receiving affirming care, make sure any forms or medical documents offer inclusive language and identifiers. These fields include sex assigned at birth, gender identity and sexual orientation. Not only does this help the patient feel that you prioritize their health and wellbeing, it also provides more accurate information to start with for the provider. 

It is important to move away from any cis-gendered, heteronormative language. Some examples of more inclusive identifiers include:

  • “Caregiver” instead of “Mother” or “Father”

  • “Spouse” or “Partner” instead of “Husband” or “Wife”

It’s also wise to leave a space for your patients to write in their own identifiers and answers if the listed options don’t fit them. 

Address LGBTQ+ youth patient with their preferred pronouns or name

It's important to remember to be respectful of your young patients' pronouns, gender identity and sexual orientation before the telehealth appointment. It’s likely they are just coming to terms with their identity or still adjusting. Making it a point to remember and use their preferred pronouns will help build positive rapport and promote a better care experience. 

Common pronouns include:

  • She/Her

  • He/Him

  • They/Them

  • She/Them

  • He/Them

  • Ze/Hir

Even if they’ve indicated their preferred pronouns on their intake or medical forms, it’s best practice during the initial visit to confirm them. It may also be the case that they prefer to be referred to by their name.

Powering LGBTQ+ - affirming care

Providing and investing in inclusive, affirming care is an important part of any medical care practice, not just mental health. At OpenLoop, a white-label telehealth support company, we offer our clients a private label EHR with seamless API integrations built to adapt to your patient flow. We make it easy to customize forms and appointments to meet any inclusivity requirements required. Our provider staffing service also gives our clients access to 30+ specialities and continuity of care in order to meet the unique health needs of LGBTQ+ patients. 

Interested in what we can do for your organization? Get in touch here!

Our full suite of white-labeled Telehealth Support Services include: