Background: Although the social situation for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people has improved over the last decades, lesbian women still face unique challenges when seeking healthcare services.
Objectives: To explore lesbian women's healthcare experiences specifically related to sexual orientation to achieve knowledge which can contribute to increased quality of healthcare for lesbian women.
Methods: Qualitative study based on written stories, with recruitment, information, and data sampling over the internet. Data consisted of 128 anonymously written answers to a web-based, open-ended questionnaire from a convenience sample of self-identified lesbian women. Data were analysed with systematic text condensation. Interpretation of findings was supported by theories of heteronormativity. Main outcome measures. Patients' histories of experiences where a lesbian orientation was significant, when seeing a doctor or another healthcare professional.
Results: Analysis presented three different aspects of healthcare professionals' abilities, regarded as essential by our lesbian participants. First, the perspective of awareness was addressed--is the healthcare professional able to think of and facilitate the disclosure of a lesbian orientation? Second, histories pointed to the attitudes towards homosexuality--does the healthcare professional acknowledge and respect the lesbian orientation? Third, the impact of specific and adequate medical knowledge was emphasized--does the healthcare professional know enough about the specific health concerns of lesbian women?
Conclusion: To obtain quality care for lesbian women, the healthcare professional needs a persistent awareness that not all patients are heterosexual, an open attitude towards a lesbian orientation, and specific knowledge of lesbian health issues. The dimensions of awareness, attitude, and knowledge are interconnected, and a positive direction on all three dimensions appears to be a necessary prerequisite.