A gay rights group and a gay medical organisation have teamed up for a landmark project.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) announced a first-of-its-kind relationship this week to rate the healthcare industry on how it treats its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients and to educate the community about what to expect from medical providers and facilities.

HRC President Joe Solmonese highlighted the success of previous rating systems, “We have seen, through our Corporate Equality Index, that these indexes are successful in dramatically moving industries toward a greater understanding and support of policies, standards, and training that insure equal treatment.

“Given the patchwork of federal and state laws, it is our hope that this index will provide our community with the resources to make sound healthcare decisions for their loved ones. Too many times, a gay man has been unable to comfort his partner, a transgender person has been ridiculed instead of treated or a lesbian mom has been barred from seeing her child at the hospital. We believe this project will create a ‘patient’s bill of rights’ for LGBT Americans so we no longer have to live in fear of these scenarios.”

Joel Ginsberg, executive director of the GLMA, spoke of the unique needs of the LGBT community, “Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have unique healthcare needs, and hospitals need to implement certain policies and procedures in order to ensure high-quality, non-discriminatory care.

“Some hospitals are already doing a good job. This project will help all hospitals improve their services to our community, while giving our community the opportunity to assess which hospitals are willing to take those necessary steps.”

Due to incomplete and oftentimes inadequate state laws and differing hospital policies across the country, there are many challenges in guaranteeing equal health treatment for the LGBT community.

The Healthcare Equality Index will identify and promote the widespread adoption of standards that promote quality and reduce discrimination in hospital-based healthcare. The project aims to create a baseline understanding of existing hospital policies and to measure improvement from year to year.

The goals of the Healthcare Equality Index project include providing information to the public and the community about how the hospital industry and individual hospitals respond to the needs of GLBT individuals and their families; educating people about their healthcare needs and rights and the public about challenges faced by LGBT people in healthcare; developing and promoting best practice models or “gold standard” policies for the healthcare industry; and, positively affecting the behaviour of the hospital industry toward the LGBT community.

Surveys for the index were mailed to the largest 1,000 hospitals in the United States. A Council of Industry Advisors, comprised of representatives from professional associations, unions and healthcare facilities, and a Community Advisory Group, comprised of LGBT health advocates, leaders and experts, are guiding project design and implementation.

The survey includes questions that address patient and employee non-discrimination policies, visitation rights and medical decision making for same-sex couples and same-gender parents, and cultural competency and quality of care.

The first report is expected to be released in the spring of 2007.