Breaking down barriers for transgender patients

Posted on Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Author: Amelia Willes

Members of the LGBTQ+ community can be wary of the healthcare system for a multitude of reasons. They often face barriers that result in poor experiences or prevent them from seeking care in the first place. In the US, the National Institutes of Health have made the community a top priority for examining health disparities and have found there is a two to five times increase in the probability of negative health outcomes for LGBTQ+ patients compared to the general population.1

When it comes to LGBTQ+ healthcare, the transgender experience is often misunderstood by providers, resulting in difficulty recognizing and addressing their needs.2  These patients need support; however, fear of stereotypes, alienation and the requirement to be vulnerable are barriers that can keep them from seeking help. These examples are not the only ones present in the healthcare system, but they are a sample of the most frequently discussed.

A transgender person can be heavily impacted by their physician’s ability to recognize the diversity of their life compared to other transgender and cisgender patients. It’s crucial for physicians to understand that person's unique needs, just as they would anyone else.  If assumptions are made based on stereotypes, the environment is not safe or welcoming. An article in the Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene refers to a study on LGBTQ+ patients, where the majority agreed it was necessary “to have the multidimensional character of their lives recognized and to have their health care provider see them as more than just their gender, sex or sexual orientation.”3

Other concerns include an overall feeling of alienation and dehumanization due to their identity. In a UBC study, multiple transgender men described incidents of their identity being challenged by healthcare providers. They also mentioned they felt as if they were nothing but a research tool. The men noted that research was an essential part of improving trans healthcare; however, they often felt pressured or blackmailed into participating.4 It goes without saying that all healthcare providers should treat each patient with dignity and respect and ensure that they are not forced to do something they do not wish to do.

Emotional vulnerability is another topic that comes up frequently in discussions about transgender healthcare. Procedures and exams, even non-invasive ones, can heighten feelings of vulnerability for many patients. This fear and discomfort may make them reluctant to pursue treatment. The University of Michigan Health Lab says physicians can help transgender patients with these anxieties if they move through the process slowly and explain all the details of an exam.5

Other suggestions to make the experience easier include but are not limited to understanding and using the correct terminology and ensuring their records accurately reflect their name and gender identity, so all current and future physicians are on the same page.

Creating meaningful and sustainable change relies on individual actions. Therefore, it’s crucial that all healthcare providers advocate for LGBTQ+ people and recognize that their actions significantly impact the greater community.

1 Powell A. The Problems with LGBTQ healthcare. 23 Mar 2018. Accessed 7 June 2021.

2 Rotzinger K. Experiences of Transgender People in the Healthcare System: A Complex Analysis. 2018. Accessed 7 June 2021.

3 Lee A, Kanji, Z. Queering the health care system: Experiences of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. 2017. Accessed 7 June 2021.

4 Taylor E. Transmen’s Health Care Experiences: Ethical Social Work Practice Beyond the Binary. 2013. Accessed 7 June 2021.

5 Joy K. How Doctors Can Provide Better Care for Transgender Patients. 23 Mar 2018. Accessed 7 June 2021.


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