According to Lambda Legal, a nonprofit committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of the LGBT community, 50 percent of LGB patients and 70 percent of transgender patients experienced some type of discrimination in healthcare.
Enter partners Catherine Hofmann and Nic Anthony, who in the summer of 2015 found themselves moving from North Carolina to Philadelphia and immersed in all that goes along with big moves like that. From changing addresses, getting new insurance and, of course, finding new doctors.
“Well, there’s two things. We remembered that fear of having a bad experience with a doctor and just feeling like we weren’t welcome and we weren’t being treated right or with respect because of our sexuality,” said Hofmann. “And then also how hard it was to find information on LGBTQ-friendly doctors. And what we found out was there were some Facebook groups in the Philadelphia LGBTQ community and we were able to ask in there and got some really great referrals. But, if that’s the solution that people are using, we knew we could do better. And there are so many resources out there that do this exact same thing but that information doesn’t really translate well to the LGBTQ community. For example, like Yelp or Health Grades or Doc Shop or things like that, and so we basically just needed to recreate an existing business model, but for a niche audience — being the LGBTQ community. And since there’s nothing out there doing this in any big way, we were just like, ‘Hell, why not us?’”
Just like that, both Hofmann and Anthony were on their way to creating what is now QSpaces, an online resource for the LGBTQ community to research and find healthcare providers based on the reviews and recommendations of others within the LGBTQ community itself.
Anthony, a medical student at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, pitched the business model for QSpaces in a healthcare startup competition held by both Jefferson and Philadelphia University in 2016. Awarded $10,000, Anthony and Hofmann had the funds to get their idea off the ground and into the interwebs.
That was the money that got us started,” said Hofmann. “And it validated us, well, we did some other things to validate the idea, but for someone to actually put money behind the idea, it was like, OK this is bigger than us.”
With the January announcement that the Trump Administration was expanding religious freedom protection for doctors and other healthcare workers, this is, indeed, a bigger issue and project, as many fear that this protection can open the doors to discrimination and the denial of needed medical care to those in the LGBTQ community.
The Center for American Progress reports that 29 percent of LGB adults are more likely to delay or not seek medical care, compared to 17 percent of the heterosexual population. A statistic that Hofmann points out contributes to the higher rates of cancer, mental illness and suicide within the LGBTQ community, likely due to the lack of preventative care.
“For us to have the ability to share our experiences and say, ‘Hey, I had a great experience with this doctor’ or ‘I had a bad experience with this one’ it gives other people in the community the ability to ensure that they’re going to see a great provider the first time,” explained Hofmann. “Imagine you make an appointment and you go see your doctor, and they discriminate against you or there’s verbal or physical harassment and then you still have to pay for that doctor’s visit, you know? And then you have to make another appointment and find another doctor and start the process all over again. It’s really expensive for the patients. So imagine if you knew, if people in your community said, ‘Hey, I identify this way and this doctor was great and I recommend this doctor,’ so just having that information beforehand, I think, provides a huge sense of relief and it’s going to empower LGBT patients to go to preventative care and start to whittle down these health disparities.”
Through the site, users will rate and review providers based on three different criteria on a scale from 1-5, one being the lowest and five being the highest. Users will be asked to rate their overall experience, the quality of care and to assess the provider’s LGBTQ competency. It is completely free and anonymous for the LGBTQ community to use and also provides an open text box for users to further explain their experience and add any details. The site is currently beta testing in the Philadelphia zip codes only, but Hofmann and Anthony are hopeful to expand into other cities once they’ve perfected and proven this model to be an important resource for the LGBTQ community.
This is where members can rate and review providers.
“I personally think it’s just as valuable to have that information on providers that aren’t great,” said Hofmann. “I think it kind of acts as either a stick for the hospital system or that practice to say, ‘Hey, you need to get some training’, or maybe a provider doesn’t even realize, and [they can] say, ‘Hey I want to provide great care to everybody, this is something I’m going to work on’.”
With a mostly grassroots campaign of word of mouth and social media, QSpaces is gearing up for a huge marketing push in the coming weeks in which they hope to continue building relationships with members of the press and even with providers themselves.
“The big goal for 2018 is to get our main revenue stream up and running. So just like Yelp or Health Grades, doctors pay a subscription fee to have pictures, fill out a profile and use that as a marketing tool so we’re kind of using that model and then also just sponsorships [and] licensing data,” said Hofmann. “Not only getting revenue stream up and running but getting providers on to buying the subscription and enhancing a profile so really having those types of markets embracing this tool and seeing the value in it.”
“When I tell people that this is an issue and I share these statistics of how bleak healthcare can be for the people in the LGBTQ community, people are shocked. I think they forget. I mean now we see gay couples in the media. In pop culture, it’s widely accepted, but I think on the individual levels, it’s easy if you’re not kind of like in the trenches,” Hofmann added. “I think it’s easy to forget that this can still be an issue.”