LGBT health research — on topics from disease prevalence to barriers to appropriate care — remains a strikingly underdeveloped field, according to a report released Thursday by the Institute of Medicine.
That's due in part to inadequate data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity in federally funded surveys and electronic health records, researchers concluded.
The report (a brief is available here) recommended such data inclusion for LGBT populations as well as urging the National Institutes of Health, which sponsored the study, to devote more research to LGBT health and to create a comprehensive training approach to the field. Researchers need to actively focus attention on the LGBT population, as they have done with other minority groups, according to the report's findings.
“There’s so little research that we couldn’t just identify the gaps,” said Robert Graham, committee chair of the report and a professor of family medicine at University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “We needed to base our findings across a more broad and encompassing degree of needs in terms of research.”
To date, research that exists on LGBT groups has focused mainly on gay men and lesbians, and has concentrated on adult subjects more than adolescents and the elderly. “The research is not adequately addressing subpopulations, particularly racial and ethnic groups,” Graham said at a Thursday press conference in Washington, D.C.
Though the report's authors emphasized the need for more data on sexual orientation and gender identity from federally funded surveys, a requirement that federal agencies collect voluntary data was not ultimately included in the health care reform bill passed last year.
“I think this has been the watershed issue for LGBT scientific researchers for the past few decades,” said Robert Garofalo, a committee member and a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. “This is something we’ve done for other populations, and quite frankly, we simply should be doing it now for this population. And I think this document goes a long way in framing it from a very scientific perspective. It’s entirely now a matter of political will to get it done.”
Researchers concluded that social and economic data from federal surveys could “provide valuable information on the context for health disparities experienced by LGBT people,” among other benefits.
Click here for more information on the report, “The Health of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding.”
Update: In a Thursday statement, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius called the report "an important step in identifying research gaps and opportunities, as part of an overall effort to understand and address the health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. We look forward to continuing our work to address these needs and reduce LGBT health disparities."