SEATTLE — The Williams Institute estimates there are 1.4 million people in the United States that identify as transgender. That is no small number, and compared to other patient populations, transgender people are at an increased risk for substance abuse, depression, suicide, cancer, and other health challenges that can get in the way of living a happy and healthy life.
Having access to understanding medical professionals is imperative for every patient, and the transgender community is no exception. However, obstacles arise that can make it difficult for transgender patients to receive adequate care. According to the 2010 Lamba Legal Survey of Discrimination against LGBT People, the majority that visit healthcare providers have experienced some sort of discrimination, including refusal of care and physical and verbal abuse.
Virginia Mason's approach comes at a time of need and hopes to revolutionize health care for transgender and non-binary patients. Their Transgender Health Services Program aims to not only provide excellent care but offer a welcoming experience for people of all identities.
"I would love to see more and more patients be able to access this type of care," says Dr. Camille Johnson.
Mitch Hunter, who is a patient of Dr. Johnson's and a member of Virginia Mason's transgender service line guiding team, has navigated the healthcare system as a transgender man and is now on a mission to help others. "My biggest barrier was actually getting seen in the first place," He explains, "No one wanted to be known as the one who served the trans community."
Adjusting how medical institutions approach transgender health can increase the likelihood of transgender patients seeking necessary health screenings, mental health care, and the medical care they need in addition to making everyone feel comfortable, safe, and respected.
"A lot of people are a little bit nervous to even go in and be seen because of treatment that they've received before or maybe even just wondering if that's going to happen to them," says Hunter.
Everyone in the medical office has a role in bridging the gap between minority communities and equal treatment and care. All Virginia Mason staff undergo inclusion and diversity training to ensure a seamless, welcoming experience. Providers are also trained on how to provide hormone therapy and how to take a nondiscriminatory sexual health history in order to provide the correct route of care for each individual. "It starts when you walk in the door. It starts with the person who checks you in, it starts with the medical assistant who calls you back, or if you go for a procedure, all the different faces that you run through in a procedure," stresses Dr. Camille Johnson.
In addition to breaking down barriers between patients and the initiation and management of hormone therapy that sometimes gets denied by healthcare providers, Virginia Mason's program offers all-around care, including preventative care, wellness exams, plastic and reconstructive surgery, gynecology, treatments for infectious disease and gender-affirming procedures that can be a pathway to the ability for patients to feel and be their true selves. Offering a range of medical and mental health care options gives those who may be facing difficulty getting the treatment they need a safe place to go.
If you or a loved one is looking for a medical provider that specializes in creating a safe space for transgender and non-binary patients, Virginia Mason's Transgender Services are open to anyone wishing to make an appointment.