Deirdre Shires: Improving the quality of LGBTQ+ health care

June 12, 2019

For many in the LGBTQ+ community, accessing health care services is often a challenge, and many healthcare providers struggle to understand how to best treat LGBTQ+ patients.

Dr. Deirdre Shires, assistant professor in the School of Social Work within the Michigan State University College of Social Science studies this disparity and how health care providers can improve health care experiences and outcomes for LGBTQ+ people.

Dr. Deirdre Shires, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work

The gaps in LGBTQ+ health care

Shires’ research centers around highlighting these disparities to close health care gaps for the LGBTQ community. One of her past studies, published in 2018, looked at the willingness of primary care clinicians to treat transgender patients. Shires and her team found that clinicians who were unwilling to treat transgender patients tended to be older and more transphobic, while knowing a transgender person tended to make clinicians more willing to see transgender patients.

Shires is also currently collaborating with local healthcare providers to study the treatment of transgender patients in Detroit-area emergency rooms. The study team is surveying emergency room providers at local hospitals to better understand the challenges care providers face when treating transgender patients.

Shires is also engaged with a study that focuses on the experiences of LGBTQ+ cancer survivors. Led by Wayne State University, this study aims to uncover the disparities in cancer treatment for the LGBTQ+ community and ways that providers can help to bridge that gap. The research team will be conducting focus groups of LGBTQ+ cancer survivors to understand, from their perspective, what needs to change for care to be more accessible and positive.

Opening the gate for positive LGBTQ+ health care

When studying care providers and LGBTQ+ care, Shires doesn’t only focus on the negatives: “It’s also important to me to talk to providers who are doing a great job making care accessible and positive for transgender patients, in order to translate what they’re doing to help other providers improve how they care for the transgender community.”

Shires is hoping her research will transform how health practitioners treat LGBTQ+ patients, and she purposefully communicates her findings to physicians, other providers, and healthcare administrators. “I want to highlight the inequities that exist and show ways in which providers can improve the experience of LGBTQ+ patients. The goals of my research is to help break down the barriers that LGBTQ+ people experience when seeking care, improve their health care experiences, and ultimately improve their lives.”