Meeting the Healthcare Needs of Transgender Patients

06/17/2019 by Sarah Pena

Doctor talking to the patient about menopause and treatment in future.
Many transgender people face barriers to utilizing basic primary and preventive healthcare.

Social awareness and acceptance of transgender individuals has increased over the past decade. Yet transgender people often face barriers to finding and utilizing healthcare – even basic primary care and preventive care. Many transgender individuals have postponed medical care because of discrimination, been subject to verbal harassment, or have even been denied healthcare because of their gender identity.

Providing a holistic, respectful and welcoming healthcare experience for all patients, not just transgender patients, is an essential component of good medicine and the health of our communities. Preventive medicine, primary care and integrated behavioral healthcare is a crucial part of the healthcare experience for all people, regardless of race, age, gender identity and/or gender expression.

“Unfortunately, most healthcare providers have little training in caring for and addressing the needs of transgender patients,” said lore m. dickey, Ph.D., L.P., a behaviorist at North Country HealthCare. “Nevertheless, transgender people need preventive care such as vaccines, gynecological care, prostate exams and other annual preventive measures.”

Specific care for transgender patients

There is a lack of understanding regarding transgender people. Although science may not be able to fully understand how the brain works, it is evident the brain plays a major role is sex-specific behaviors, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Transgender people may or may not choose to alter their sex or bodies with hormones or surgery. Many transgender people choose to undergo hormone treatment to align their bodies more closely to their identities. Access to hormone treatment has been shown to be safe and improves the quality of life for many people. A qualified medical professional should supervise treatment. Primary care providers, with experience in transgender medicine and many endocrinologists can provide and monitor hormone treatments.

Some transgender people choose to have surgery, known as sex reassignment or gender affirmation surgery, to physically move from one gender to another – male-to-female or female-to-male.

For adolescent patients, some may realize they are transgender before or when first entering puberty. Under the guidance of a therapist, endocrinologist, adolescent medicine physician and/or primary care physician these patients may be treated with specific hormones that “reversibly” delay puberty until the patient and parents are ready to initiate cross-sex hormones, usually around age 16.

In addition to lack of medical care for transgender people, some suffer with depression, anxiety and increased risk of suicide.

With such significant public health problems facing transgender people, it is crucial that access to healthcare is a respectful and helpful process for all. Under the Affordable Care Act, it is illegal for health providers, insurance companies and other health programs to discriminate against transgender people. This means that healthcare providers must treat all people with respect and according to each person’s gender identity.

“Regardless of whether a transgender person chooses a medical transition, that person still needs and is entitled to preventive healthcare,” said Dr. dickey. “For those who initiate hormone treatment or surgery, primary care is a crucial part of daily health and the transition process.”

Providing better care

Simple ways to create a patient-friendly healthcare environment may include:

  • Ensure that all staff are trained in cultural competence and sexual/social/racial diversity
  • Attention to privacy, especially in exam rooms
  • Restroom signage that allows for families and transgender patients to feel comfortable using a restroom
  • Ask each patient the name and pronouns they use and prefer
  • Development and use of forms and documents that allow for transgender responses
  • Offer a variety of reading materials, both for staff and patients

“Patients who feel respected, listened to and who receive appropriate treatment in a safe and affirming environment are more likely to return for follow-up care and health services, resulting in healthier individuals and communities,” said Dr. dickey.

Dr. lore m. dickey serves at North Country HealthCare’s Bullhead City location.

North Country HealthCare is dedicated to creating healthier communities by serving as the primary care provider of choice and ensuring no person is without access to primary care.

“As healthcare providers, educators and advocates, North Country HealthCare serves all people with care and respect through a variety of supportive, inclusive and non-judgmental settings and service,” said Brandon Abbott, D.O., M.P.H., pediatrician and internal medicine physician. In addition to caring for patients of all ages, Dr. Abbott also serves as the deputy chief medical officer at North Country HealthCare.

“Providing non-judgmental healthcare to a transgender person is certainly one of my more satisfying experiences, as I am able to help another person start to actualize who they really identify as. North Country HealthCare acknowledges and respects the diversity of individuals. The team of medical, behavioral health and allied health professionals are dedicated to improving access to culturally sensitive and clinically competent healthcare for all people.”

Located in 14 communities throughout northern Arizona, North Country HealthCare provides accessible, affordable, comprehensive, quality primary healthcare in an atmosphere of respect, dignity and cultural sensitivity. From preventive care to unexpected illness to chronic disease management, North Country HealthCare’s providers deliver compassionate, patient and family-centered care to patients of all ages. When illness strikes, same-day appointments are available. Request an appointment with a North Country HealthCare provider today.

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