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Chicago-area urology clinic works to improve care for LGBTQ

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Dr. Channa Amarasekera meets with a patient at Northwestern’s Gay and Bisexual Men’s Urology Program. Photo provided.

LGBTQ people can often struggle to find healthcare, especially healthcare without judgement. It can impact all fields of care, even areas you might not think about, like urology.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital has taken steps to help with their Gay and Bisexual Men’s Urology Program.

Dr. Channa Amarasekera, director of the Gay and Bisexual Men’s Urology Program. Photo provided.

“When I was a urology resident at Northwestern, some of the gay patients I saw would express their frustration at not being able to openly discuss their health issues with their doctors,” said Dr. Channa Amarasekera, director of the program. “As a result, they would sometimes disengage with their care team, which negatively affected their treatment. They needed a place where they felt safe to talk about their sexuality and how it played a role in their overall health.”

That lead him to focus on LGBTQ health within urology during his medical studies. His team’s research found that most medical education had a blind spot with LGBTQ patients, a chronic problem in all specialties. Even when they meant well, providers were limited with culturally sensitive care and that could create tensions between patients and their healthcare providers. Without a good relationship between a doctor and patient, care can suffer.

That’s where the Gay and Bisexual Men’s Urology Program. The program is relatively young having started just last summer. That’s when the hospital gave Amarasekera a chance to use what he had learned.

“It seemed overdue,” he said. “Sexual health plays a central role in many aspects of urologic care. Our program meets the needs of LGBTQ patients and helps us improve care for the community.”

The biological basics of urology are the same for straight and gay and bi men. The differences come in the culture and sexual activities.

“For example, prostate health is a big part of urology, but many urologists don’t understand the pleasure the prostate can give men who bottom,” Amarasekera said. “When treating prostate cancer, or other prostate conditions, the effect these treatments have on the prostate are often overlooked, and men are not appropriately counseled about them.”

The program works with Howard Brown Health, the largest LGBTQ health organization in the Chicago area, and other LGBTQ-supportive providers. Many of the program’s patients come from referrals from those providers.

“Right now, the majority of our patients are local,” Amarasekera said. “But with the growing role of telemedicine, we have expanded our reach to other parts of the state and country. I see a couple of different ways of extending our services. We can offer more of these telehealth opportunities to patients who could otherwise not come to Chicago. We are also working on creating a blueprint to establish similar LGBTQ urology clinics, to help expand access in other parts of the country.”

Matthew Curtin of Chicago is one of the patients who has taken advantage of the program’s existence. He found out about the clinic through his own doctor at Northwestern Urology. He’s been very happy with the care.

“In my opinion, the clinic and Dr. Amarasekera sets a baseline to understand and listen to my questions and concerns in an open and in-depth manner, and in a genuine caring way,” Curtin said. “I don’t feel like I have to fit into a ‘mold’ of care and treatment…my care and treatment is molded to fit my needs.”

To become a patient, people can go to https://www.nm.org/conditions-and-care-areas/urology/gay-and-bisexual-mens-urology-program and click on “Request an appointment” or call (312)695-8146 and request an appointment in the Gay and Bisexual Men’s Urology Clinic, either virtually or in person.

“We are always looking at ways to serve the community better, and encourage feedback on ways we can do that,” Amarasekera said. “One of the great joys of building this clinic has been the way it has brought patients and doctors together, allowing us to learn from each other. Listening to the community will always be one of our core values.”

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