‘Provide a safe space’ | Health Beat

If you ask Christopher Palazzo, MD, why he chose West Michigan as the place to practice medicine, he can sum it up in one sentence.

A commitment to affirmative and inclusive care.

John Duhn, DO, and Dr. Palazzo, primary care physician at Spectrum Health Medical Group Family Medicine – Allendale, say their practice is popular among the LGBTQ+ community.

And not by accident.

Their team members pride themselves on providing affirmative and inclusive care for all.

dr. Duhn, a provider of Spectrum Health for nearly eight years, recently welcomed Dr. Palazzo in his team. dr. Palazzo said in his first year at the practice that he saw Dr. Duhn followed in hopes of working with the LGBTQ+ population.

“I saw a tremendous need for more caregivers who could provide affirmative and competent care to this community,” said Dr. palazzo. “The need for more doctors, as one or two doctors can’t take care of all these patients.”

dr. Palazzo said it’s a unique environment in Allendale, and everyone knows what’s important and relevant to this population.

“This is unique care for many of our patients,” he said. “And it’s also a very important concern.”

Meeting needs

When you walk into their office, you’ll see rainbow stickers and pride flags on every employee’s workplace. Each team member wears a rainbow pin on their name badge, to show that they are safe and affirming allies.

Small gestures like these can instantly ease a patient’s mind, said Dr. palazzo.

As a gay man, he had similar concerns when visiting the doctor when he was younger, and worried about being judged or even ostracized before going to family and friends.

“I’ve heard of LGBTQ+ patients who were so afraid of meeting a new doctor that they waited in the car for half an hour filled with fear and anxiety before stepping foot in,” he said. “Seeing something as simple as a rainbow symbol can make such a difference and instantly relieve tension and anxiety.”

Sexual orientation and gender identity are often difficult discussions to bring up with a new counselor.

dr. Palazzo and his team immediately break the ice on those items. All new patient papers ask for pronouns, as well as the chosen name and gender the patient identifies with.

dr. Palazzo said his patients told him they immediately felt comfortable and safe in his office.

“This community has faced so many challenges over the years, such as discrimination, hatred and alienation, both in the community and in the healthcare system,” he said. “Providing a safe space is extremely important.”

There are real social determinants of health, things that lead to less access to health care, when it comes to this population, he said.

“We’re trying to break down barriers to care,” said Dr. palazzo. “For example, we offer video visits to make it easier for patients to get the care they need.”

Asking questions

Spectrum Health recently rolled out a training series developed by the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center for physicians and healthcare teams to designate medical offices as safe and affirmative.

dr. Duhn and Dr. Palazzo were proud that their entire team completed training in the first week it was available.

Small steps like this can have a big impact on the way a patient receives care. Something as simple as having the pronoun conversation right away, said Dr. Palazzo, makes the difference.

“You can’t just assume that a patient will use the name on the card,” he said. “They may not have carried that name in years.”

Much of this work requires learning as you go — being open and apologizing if you make a mistake, said Dr. palazzo. Since many of his patients are new, he spends time getting to know who they are, who they live with, and what they do beforehand.

“Asking questions like these can really break the ice and open up important topics for discussion,” he said.

The Spectrum Health application for MyChart now also includes options for gender identity, pronouns, and sexual orientation – all extremely important pieces of information for a patient’s health and helpful for a physician to provide more personalized care. The system also has a way of properly documenting procedures and changes in a patient’s health status.

Allendale’s GP practice isn’t the only GP practice focused on affirming care for the LGBTQ+ community.

Spectrum Health recently published a list of safe and confirmatory providers available to the LGBTQ+ community, with offices in West Michigan.

“We have a continuous flow of new patients and want to provide the best possible access to care,” said Dr. palazzo. “There are certainly exciting things on the horizon. Knowing before you even walk in the door that you matter makes all the difference in the world.”