The queer community has gone too long with inadequate health care. TG FOLX is here.
By Gabrielle Kassel
December 03, 2020
TeleHealth Platform Made By Queer People for Queer People
Fact: The majority of health care providers do not receive LGBTQ competency training, and therefore are not able to provide LGBTQ-inclusive care. Research by advocacy groups shows that 56 percent of LGBTQ individuals have been discriminated against while seeking medical treatment, and worse, more than 20 percent report facing harsh language or unwanted physical contact in health care settings. These percentages are even higher for BIPOC queer folks, according to a survey by the Center for American Progress.
These sad stats have critical implications for the physical and mental health and longevity of people in the queer community — and they certainly do nothing to remedy queer folks’ increased risk for things including suicide, substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, anxiety and depression, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
That’s why the launch of a health services provider built by queer people for queer people, is so damn important. Introducing: FOLX.
What is FOLX?
“FOLX is the first LGBTQIA-focused digital health platform in the world,” says A.G. Breitenstein, founder and CEO of FOLX, who identifies as genderqueer (she/they). Think of FOLX as OneMedical for the queer community.
FOLX is not a primary caregiver. So, they aren’t who you’ll go to if you have a sore throat or think you might have COVID-19. Instead, they offer care around three essential pillars of health: identity, sex, and family. “FOLX is who you would go to for hormone replacement therapy, sexual health and wellness care, and help with family creation,” explains Breitenstein. (Related: A Glossary of All the LGBTQ+ Terms Allies Should Know)
FOLX offers at-home STI testing and treatment, gender-affirming hormones (aka hormone replacement therapy or HRT), access to PrEP (a daily medicine that can reduce your risk of getting HIV if exposed to the virus), and erectile dysfunction care and support.
The company’s services are available for anyone older than 18 who identifies as LGBTQ+ and who is looking to receive sexual health, identity, and family care by an affirming care provider. (Breitenstein notes that eventually, FOLX aims to offer trans pediatric care with parental guidance and consent.) Services are offered via video or online chat, depending on where you live and your state’s regulations. This is notable because it gives LGBTQ people access to LGBTQ-friendly health care, even if they live somewhere that’s not so accepting.
Don’t Other Telehealth Providers Offer This?
None of FOLX medical offerings are new to the world of medicine. But, what sets FOLX apart is that patients can guarantee that they’re going to be in the care of an affirming provider, and they can trust that any photos or written information (think: pamphlets, artwork, and marketing materials) they see when working with that provider are inclusive.
Additionally, the way FOLX delivers their care is different: Traditional health care companies, for example, have been offering direct-to-consumer, convenient at-home STD test kits for a few years now. But FOLX helps you figure out which type of testing is right for you based on the sex acts you partake in. If, for instance, oral sex and anal sex has been a staple of your sex life, the FOLX providers may recommend an oral and/or anal swab — an offering most other at-home STD kits do not offer. (Related: Yes, Oral STIs Are a Thing: Here’s What You Need to Know)
Likewise, telehealth services such as The Pill Club and Nurx have all played a role in revolutionizing birth control access by offering online appointments with medical pros who can write contraceptive prescriptions and even delivering birth control right to your door. What makes FOLX special is that trans and nonbinary patients interested in avoiding pregnancy can access that care, knowing that they won’t come face-to-face with a doctor who doesn’t know how to handle their identity or gendered language, marketing, or imagery. (Great news: While FOLX is the only platform that’s dedicated exclusively to serving the LGBTQ+ community, they aren’t the only ones working to offer more inclusive service. Another online birth control provider, SimpleHealth, just launched additional treatment options along with accurate gender identity and pronoun categories for pre-HRT trans men looking to continue or start birth control.)
Nurx, Plush Care, and The Prep Hub also allow you to buy PrEP online. And while these other hubs do a great job making PrEP available to all genders (not just cisgender men!), FOLX allows pleasure-seekers to access PrEP through the same provider that they’re accessing contraceptives and STI testing, making it that much easier for people to stay on top of their sexual health.
FOLX Health Care Providers Aren’t Like Other Doctors
FOLX has entirely re-thought the patient-clinician relationship. Unlike other providers whose number one priority is to diagnose patients, “FOLX priority is to provide medical services that support who you are, celebrate who you are, and help you achieve what is important for you in terms of sex, gender, and family,” explains Breitenstein. (Note: FOLX does not currently offer any mental health-related care. For an LGBTQ-affirming therapist check out the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, The Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists, and Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.)
How does FOLX provide “celebratory” care, exactly? “By offering all the best practices of clinical care (quality, knowledgable, risk-aware), but within a stigma-free, shame-free environment,” they say. And because every FOLX providers are educated on all the ins and outs of queer and trans health, patients can trust that they’re getting accurate, holistic care. (Sadly, this is not the norm — research shows that just 53 percent of doctors report feeling confident in their knowledge of the health needs of LGB patients.)
The brilliance of the FOLX framework is most obvious when you consider what it looks like for patients seeking access to gender-affirming hormones. FOLX does not work with a gatekeeper model (wherein people interested in HRT need to get a referral letter from a mental health provider) which is still the norm in many places, explains Kate Steinle, N.P., FOLX’s chief clinical officer and former director of trans/non-binary care at Planned Parenthood. Instead, “FOLX works solely based on informed consent,” says Steinle.
Here’s what that looks like: If a patient is interested in gender-affirming hormones, they’ll indicate as much on the patient intake-form, as well as share the rate of changes they are hoping to see. “A FOLX provider will give the patient information and guidance around what a good starting dose of hormones would be based on that information,” says Steinle. The provider will also make sure that the patient understands “the risk associated with that type of treatment, and helps the patient deduce whether or not they feel comfortable with those risks,” she says. Once they’re on the same page, the FOLX provider will then prescribe the hormones. With FOLX, it really is that straight-forward.
“FOLX does not see HRT as something that fixes patients or cures a disease state,” says Steinle. “FOLX thinks of it as something that gives people access to self-empowerment, joy, and a way of experiencing the world you want to live in.”