Helping transgender patients navigate health care

Penn Medicine Center for Health Equity Advancement and Penn’s Program for LGBTQ Health works to address the specific health care needs of gender diverse patients.

For many people, the care they receive in a clinic or hospital may be different or inadequate to meet their needs. Health care systems have been designed by and for a singular perspective or type of person, says Rosemary Thomas, (she/her), director of operations for the Penn Medicine Center for Health Equity Advancement and associate director for Penn’s Program for LGBTQ Health.

A transgender patient wearing a mask and hospital gown on a hospital bed.

“If your needs or experiences in the world are different than this perspective, accessing health care is at the minimum difficult and oftentimes perpetuates harm and inequity,” Thomas says.

Gender diverse—an umbrella term for those with transgender or non-cisgender identities—people may experience disparities when it comes to both health care (issues with access to and quality of care) and health (outcomes)—largely due to historic and current systemic exclusion, discrimination, and marginalization. These disparities are also compounded by structural racism in medicine and inequities in access based on income status.

One of the biggest barriers reported by gender diverse individuals is lack of access to care due to limited providers who are sufficiently knowledgeable on gender affirming medicine. Other barriers within health systems include gendered policies or practices (such as gender segregated changing rooms for outpatient procedures), limited abilities by electronic health records to collect affirming information about a patient’s gender identity, and lack of routine education related to gender diversity.

Initiatives like Penn Medicine’s Program for LGBTQ Health and the Transgender Patient Advocate Program aim to make the health care experience a smoother, less stressful time, while making access to care easier.

LZ Mathews (they/them), patient navigator for the LGBTQ Health Program and a transgender patient advocate, sees their role as one which helps ensure that each patient is being respected as a fuller person—from gender affirming care (a range of social, psychological, behavioral, and medical care which supports a person’s gender identity) to making sure everyday care needs are met.

“As a patient navigator, I work primarily with trans and gender diverse clients to navigate the health system in ways that respect their connection to affirming care,” says Mathews, who is also a master of social work student with Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice. “At the same time, I’m trying to assist with improving access and removing barriers throughout the health system.”

These efforts include advocacy with providers and improving how information is accessed online, for example.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.