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Transgender Patients and Challenges in Health Care

Recently, the society has been more accepting of different ethnicities, world views, religions, and genders. According to Roussy’s (2016) report for CBC News, it is estimated that there are currently twenty-five million transgender people around the world; however, many of them are denied their main human rights such as equal access to health care.

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Despite the fact that the year 2015 stood out the most when it comes to the recognition of transgender rights, the change did not translate into the provision of equal access to healthcare. The community remains predominantly marginalized, with policies and laws denying them recognition of their gender, making accessing health care very challenging. Since millions of transgender people experience multiple health issues such as high HIV rates and severe depression, it is imperative for the sphere of healthcare to establish a cohesive strategy for providing equal access to health care for all citizens regardless of their gender.

Stigma and Bias as Main Challenges

Among the main challenges, stigma is the most prominent. If to provide an example for the stigma, the case of Tanya Walker stands out tremendously. In her Reuters interview, Tanya mentioned that she had lung cancer and was coughing up blood, but the emergency room doctor kept asking her about her “real” gender (Trotta, 2016).

The same stigma is experienced by transgender people in the society, where the majority of them being harassed and ridiculed. According to Trotta (2016), around thirty percent of transgender patients reported delays or not seeking care because of discrimination, and one in four patients did not receive equal treatment in healthcare settings. In the example of Tanya Walker, her lung cancer was misdiagnosed as tuberculosis; the doctor gave her antibiotics and sent her home, with Tanya discovering that she had lung cancer three months later. In this case, discrimination and stigma prevent transgender patients from getting right diagnoses.

Transgender patients, who account for approximately 0.6% of the American population (1.4 million people), require their acute medical needs addressed. Usually, they have higher rates of acute medical conditions, preventable disease, abuse of the substance, attempts of suicide, and mental health issues. Moreover, those patients whose healthcare providers were not educated enough on the transgender issues reported higher rates of treatment delays.

By only asking questions about gender, doctors that lack knowledge on transgender problems are highly likely to “create an atmosphere of disapproval for transgender patients” (Trotta, 2016, para. 12). Transgender patients also reported that they were “misgendered” and referred to by their birth names and gender, despite the fact that their documents have been changed legally (Trotta, 2016). Another example is the case of Jay Kallio, a 61-year-old transgender man that had a check on his breast lump. The patient stated that the doctor had never followed up with the results of the performed biopsy. When eventually Jay spoke to the doctor, he said that he had an issue with Jay’s transgender status, and did not even know what to call Jay.

Implications of Discrimination in Healthcare

As mentioned previously, discrimination affects around thirty percent of transgender individuals. Despite the changes in Medicaid and Medicare benefits provided by the Affordable Care Act, still, very few medical schools offer students training on the issues associated with transgender health, which contributes to the decrease in health care quality as well as the overall health outcomes of patients. The examples of Tanya and Jay show that lack of education or respect of doctors to the needs of transgender community results in serious implications such as misdiagnosis or improper treatment. At the same time, a little research into issues of transgender health has been done due to problems with collecting information on gender identity, which makes it nearly impossible to provide quality and efficient services to transgender patients (Makadon, 2017).

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As a result of discrimination and mistreatment, transgender patients are faced with healthcare disparities. According to the Healthy People 2020 (2014), transgender individuals have a higher occurrence of HIV/STDs victimization, mental health problems, suicide and are more likely to be rejected by health insurers compared to heterosexual or LGB patients. Moreover, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that half of the respondents (3,225 out of 6,450) reported the inability of their healthcare providers to offer appropriate treatment that caters to their unique needs.

Apart from experiencing health care disparities as a result of discrimination, it is important to mention the fact that bias and mistreatment add to the exasperation of mental health problems, substance abuse, and suicide attempts. When transgender (or any other) individuals have been rejected from the community, they are more likely to have depression and other mental health issues. Unfortunately, it is not the job of the transgender community to educate medical providers; rather, healthcare professionals should invest in educating themselves about the unique needs of their transgender patients. With appropriate education and research, the medical staff will become more efficient in catering to the needs of transgender patients and eliminating the disparities in the quality of care.


Healthy People 2020. (2017). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health.

Makadon, H. (2017). Transgender people still experience barriers to healthcare.

Roussy, K. (2016). Transgender patients face health-care discrimination, inadequate treatment.

Trotta, D. (2016). Transgender patients face fear and stigma in the doctor’s office.

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