There are two kinds of people who see and touch my naked body: lovers and doctors.
So when I got an email from my doctor’s office saying they may no longer accept my health insurance, it felt like a break-up.
“Oh, no,” I thought to myself. “I have to put myself back out there.”
It had taken me years to find a doctor I trusted, a doctor with whom I was comfortable seeing and touching my body, a doctor I could verbally open up to about the ways my body does— and doesn’t — function.
It’s one thing to be vulnerable and exposed with a lover, when the goal is pleasure and bonding. It’s quite another to be vulnerable and exposed in a well-lit doctor’s office, laying on a table covered in paper, being poked and prodded with instruments and machines and hands and fingers.
I’ve had relationships with women last less time than the one I’ve got with my doctor. And my doctor knew far more about my body than those partners ever did.
So now I might be out there again, looking, screening, hoping to find the one. The one I can talk to. The one who will listen to me. The one I can trust. The one who won’t judge, the one I can share my body with in the most honest of ways.
Is There an App for That?
Just like in dating, not only must I put myself out there in hopes of finding a doctor.
I also need to determine what it is I’m looking for, what my needs are.
I know I’m more comfortable with a male doctor. It removes an extra layer of awkwardness when being disrobed. It adds a sense of relatability, that the doctor, having lived his life in a body like mine, can relate to the health issues I face.
But it goes deeper than that. For many years, I preferred a doctor who shared my religion. It was unlikely my faith had any real bearing on my physical health, but it did make me more comfortable in the doctor’s office.
The more we had in common, the more I would feel at ease talking through my health. I’ve since let the religion part go when it comes to finding a doctor; these days, I put an emphasis on a doctor who is patient, who can listen, and can talk through — not dictate to me — what medicines I should be taking and what lifestyle adjustments I should make.
All this, and I’m just a white guy without any major health complications.
How Body Type Influences Medical Care
It gets far more complicated for others, because the kinds of bodies we inhabit directly impacts the health issues we face and the health care we receive.
According to the CDC, racial and minority groups “experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease, when compared to their White counterparts.”
And according to the Institute of Medicine, “bias, stereotyping, prejudice and clinical uncertainty contribute to disparities.” Some studies suggest that racial and ethnic minority patients are more likely to refuse treatment.
Dismantling decades of institutional racism is no easy feat. But there are other ways for medical practitioners to address issues of race and bias.
A company called Violet now offers “a cultural competence credentialing and upskilling platform for clinicians.” The company is, according to its web site, made up of “mission-driven queer, BIPOC, and Disabled individuals.”
How you experience the world, in whatever kind of body you have, influences not just what kind of care you have access to, but how you feel about seeking out and accepting that care.
We hear all the time about the different kinds of literacy needed to function in society: actual reading literacy, media literacy, financial literacy. I think medical literacy should be part of that.
Men, in particular, are notoriously bad about going to the doctor. And the medical profession doesn’t do itself any favors. Women’s health complaints are often dismissed and symptoms of pain ignored, leading to tragic results and worse health outcomes.
And who even knows the extent of cultural perceptions — and misperceptions — both patients and doctors from various backgrounds have about each other.
That’s why something that Violet is working on is so important. We know doctors go to medical school to receive an education on health and medicine.
But what about cultural competency that makes up so much of who we are, so much of how we relate to health, our bodies, and the health care industry at large?
According to Violet, 3.5 million life years were lost in 2020 alone due to racial disparities. “This isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a medical emergency,” says Violet CEO and founder Gaurang Choksi. “By taking into account identity, we can begin to build towards health equity and the key is to start with providers.”
That is probably true. Seeking out medical care in America today is a minefield. Finding providers who align with or simply are cognizant of cultural identify seems like a wish-list item.
I like to think, if I do have to find a new doctor, I’ll have the confidence and patience to search for a primary care provider who is best for me. In the meantime, I just need to get my medications refilled.
Just like in dating and relationship, when it comes to doctors and medicine, there are wants — and there are needs.
But when it comes to something as intimate and important as our bodies, it sure can be hard to distinguish the difference between them.
Previously published on Medium