WASHINGTON – Practices and clinics should implement cultural humility training and gender protocols for dealing with transgender youth because many of these youth and their parents find health care experiences to be difficult when procedures for treating and interacting with transgender youth are confusing or nonexistent.
The study is part of an ongoing effort to “provide high-quality, respectful health care for transgender youth [because] these youth are at greatly increased risk of issues including substance abuse, depression, anxiety, homelessness, and suicide,” explained Julia M. Crouch of Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
“A growing body of evidence shows improved health outcomes for transgender youth who received support from family, schools, and providers, and there are now an increasing number of multidisciplinary gender clinics throughout the country [that] have been demonstrated to be a feasible and effective way to provide coordinated care to this population,” Ms. Crouch said at the annual meeting of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine.
Ms. Crouch and her coinvestigators recruited transgender youth between the ages of 14 and 22 years, along with parents of transgender youth, all of whom were evaluated and enrolled from the Seattle metropolitan area. Both parents and youth were given the option of participating in either a semistructured interview or a focus group discussion, during which investigators learned about the concerns and experiences of both youth and parents when visiting their health care clinics (J Adolesc Health. 2011 Apr;48:351-7; J Adolesc Health. 2011 Apr;48(4):351-7)..
In total, 13 youth and 16 parents – the latter of whom were not made up of 8 pairs of parents, but rather 16 individual parents of transgender youth who were not necessarily the same 13 youth recruited for the study – were eventually selected for inclusion. The parents split evenly between opting for interviews and focus groups, while four of the youth chose interviews and the remaining nine chose focus groups. Seven youth identified themselves as male, three identified as female, and the remaining three identified as “genderqueer or gender fluid.”
Analysis of interview and focus group conversations identified six key “barriers to care” that Ms. Crouch and her coauthors call necessary to rectify in order to improve the quality of health care provided to transgender youth. These are:
• The dearth of health care providers with sufficient knowledge and interest in working with transgender youth.
• The lack of access to pubertal blockers and cross-sex hormones.
• Doctors and their staff who are unable or unwilling to use the names and pronouns that youths prefer to go by.
• Patients being made to feel uncomfortable or “not normal” by health care providers,
• The lack of a set protocol or treatment methodology for dealing with transgender youth.
• The lack of coordination between health care providers and specialties on treating transgender youth – specifically, a lack of cohesive care between mental and medical health care.
“ ‘It was hard enough to find providers who were accepting new patients, worked with adolescents and my insurance, [and] on top of it, finding someone who was transfriendly made it all but impossible,’ ” Ms. Crouch recalled one transgender youth saying during the study.
Ms. Crouch also recounted that providers’ inability to consistently use the correct pronoun when talking about or to a transgender patient was harmful, and despite most instances being dismissed as unintentional, several were said to be intentional and malicious.
“For example, one parent told us [their] doctor said, ‘her, her, her,’ and [her] son, who was 10 years old, said, ‘him, him, him,’ and the doctor got mad, became dismissive and irritated, and kept saying ‘her,’ ” said Ms. Crouch.
The average age of the youth was 18 years, and of the parents was 49 years. The parents were 88% white and 75% female, with 44% holding at least a college degree. Most of the youth were white (69%), and 77% had either completed high school or some college. Youth and parents were recruited in 2015 from local clinics in the Seattle area, as well as through local and national listservs. Thirty-three percent of the parents were from outside the state of Washington.
The study was funded by the Center for Diversity and Health Equity, and the Clinical and Translational Research Faculty Research Support Fund, at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Ms. Crouch did not report any relevant financial disclosures.