Transgender patients: Tips for treatment

Doctor demonstrating safety for transgender patients

Many transgender people delay or avoid seeking health care because they have had negative experiences in medical settings.

Doctors who rarely treat transgender patients may feel uncertain about what language to use, how to sensitively conduct a physical examination or about how medications for general health conditions may interact with treatments used for gender affirming therapies.

This can lead to transgender patients making a complaint about a doctor after experiencing poor or discriminatory treatment.

A spokesperson for the Gender Centre says transgender patients need to be treated with the same respect and personalised care a doctor would use toward any patient. “Just like any other person, a transgender patient is entitled to the right treatment and the appropriate treatment for that individual,” she said.

Tips for working with transgender patients:

  • Create an environment that welcomes everyone, including transgender patients: Use posters/stickers that show racial and gender diversity. Forms should offer the option ‘preferred name’ or allow a blank option for ‘sex/gender’ where an individual can write their preferred gender description. At least one bathroom should be unisex.
  • Ask what name and pronoun the patient prefers. Use these, even when the patient isn’t present.
  • Focus on providing care, rather than asking questions to satisfy curiousity. If you need to ask questions about gender issues, clearly explain how the topic relates to the presenting health issue.
  • If you are not treating a condition that relates to the genitals, there is no need to ask about them.
  • Know when to refer. Transgender patients often experience a range of complex issues. Be alert for signs of homelessness, depression, poverty, social isolation, drug and alcohol problems. Keep an up-to-date list of resources and agencies where you can refer a patient.
  • Tackle staff discrimination. Train other staff members about transgender issues, including what language to use.
  • Confidentiality matters. Transgender patients are entitled to the same privacy as any other patient. However, it can be tempting for staff to discuss details about some patients.

Further resources:

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Image credit: Shutterstock/Panchenko Vladimir.

Doctors who rarely treat transgender patients may feel uncertain about what language to use.