Healthcare News & Insights

5 keys to addressing transgender patients’ healthcare needs

Transgender Americans are being failed by the healthcare system, including hospitals and other providers, according to a new poll from NPR. Many trans people don’t have regular access to health care, and for those that do, the stigma and discrimination they face leads them to avoid seeking treatment.

In a poll of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 18% reported avoiding medical care even when they needed it, due to fears of being discriminated against within the healthcare system. That number jumps to 22% when looking specifically at trans people.

This concern can be more prevalent in rural communities, where patients who may not be open about their identities are worried providers and medical staff will spread the information.

Difficulty accessing care

But it’s not just fear of stigma that stops trans people from getting help. Thirty-one percent of transgender Americans lack regular access to health care because it’s harder for them to find jobs to cover their health insurance. A 2015 study found that trans people face an unemployment rate three times as high as the national average.

And for those trans patients who do have health insurance, a number of insurance companies won’t cover care related to gender transition, such as hormones or surgery, Kellan Baker, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University who studies how health policies affect gay, lesbian, queer and transgender Americans, told NPR.

Planned Parenthood is one resource for transgender people looking for affordable care because the organization trains staff to be sensitive to trans people. Plus, many of its centers offer a wide range of services, including primary care, annual exams and STD screenings.

Treating transgender patients

So how can your hospital provide better treatment to trans patients? There are several strategies your facility can try, including:

  • Treat trans patients with a high level of sensitivity. Place trans patients in hospital rooms depending on their gender identity (regardless of their assigned gender at birth), and refer to them by their preferred name and pronouns. It’s a good idea to ask all patients their preferred name and pronouns, rather than assuming someone is or isn’t trans. Plus, it helps trans patients not feel singled out among other patients.
  • Provide appropriate health care while respecting their gender identity. Example: A transgender woman may still have testicles, meaning she should still be screened for testicular cancer despite her gender identity.
  • Help trans patients navigate potential billing issues. Trans patients might run into problems with some services due to payors automatically denying a claim because of a “gender mismatch.” Explain to them that extra documentation might be required for certain procedures or services, so they’re not blindsided if a claim is denied.
  • Update your hospital’s anti-discrimination policy. Your facility’s policy on discrimination should specifically mention gender identity as a protected element.
  • Train staff. Consistently train your staff about elements of LGBTQ care and related policies, and keep an eye on patient feedback to see if there are complaints about LGBTQ-related issues so those concerns can be addressed.

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