Healthcare News & Insights

How hospitals can provide better treatment to transgender patients

Hospitals have a duty to provide top-quality care to patients from all backgrounds. Clinical staff need to be sensitive to various differences that may affect patients’ needs. In particular, hospitals must make sure they’re providing the proper care and support for transgender patients. 

GettyImages-504863176The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) does provide some guidance for hospitals in treating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients, but it’s rare to find information specifically about improving the hospital experience for transgender patients.

Sue Boisvert, the senior risk specialist at Coverys (a medical professional liability insurer), offered some insight about what hospitals must consider to provide the best care to transgender patients.

Problems & solutions

One big consideration: Transgender patients are often afraid to receive healthcare treatment in the first place, Boisvert said. This can be attributed to fears of experiencing discrimination and dealing with providers who aren’t sensitive to their needs and preferences regarding their gender identity.

Research has indicated that such fears aren’t unfounded. And due to these concerns, patients may shy away from getting the care they need after an illness or surgery, which could lead to further health complications.

Plus, if a transgender person does experience discrimination at a hospital, it’s grounds for a federal lawsuit under the terms of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because gender identity is protected under the law.

With all that in mind, it’s critical for hospitals to do their best to relieve transgender patients’ fears while providing a safe environment where they feel comfortable enough to receive care. That means clinical staff need to be aware of how to handle gender-related issues with the highest level of sensitivity possible.

To start, all patients should be placed in rooms depending on their gender identity (regardless of their assigned gender at birth). Patients should also be referred to by their preferred name and pronouns at all times, even when they aren’t present. It’s good practice for staff to discuss these preferences with all patients, so transgender people don’t feel singled out.

Regarding public restrooms in your hospital, “transgender individuals should be permitted to use the restroom of their choice and cannot be forced to use a gender-neutral restroom,” said Boivert.

Issues to keep in mind

When treating transgender patients, it’s essential to provide them the appropriate health care while respecting their gender identity, Boivert added. Example: A transgender man may still have ovaries and a uterus, which means he must still be screened for ovarian cancer even though he identifies as male.

Boivert also suggested that hospitals help transgender patients with navigating insurance billing issues because they may run into problems with receiving some services due to payors’ computer systems automatically denying certain claims due to a “gender mismatch.”

In the previous example, the transgender man’s claim for an ovarian cancer screening may be rejected the first time around, so staff could preemptively inform the patient that further documentation may be required by the insurance company before the services will be covered.

Respecting differences

Above all, hospital staff must keep an open mind and treat transgender patients with the same respect they would give any other patient.

Additionally, hospitals’ anti-discrimination policies should specifically mention gender identity as a protected element while emphasizing the facility’s commitment to respect every person’s identity while providing top-quality care to patients, regardless of gender.

Staff also need to be trained on a regular basis about LGBT care and any associated policies. According to Boivert, it’s key to scan patient satisfaction surveys or complaints to see if patients or their families are expressing any concerns about LGBT-related issues so they can be quickly addressed.

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