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Creating an Inclusive Environment: Transgender Specific Care

If the patient journey begins the moment someone starts researching their or a loved one’s symptoms, where does it end? For many, it ends after receiving successful treatment. But for many transgender patients, successful treatment, even for acute illness, is the light at the end of a seemingly never-ending and unwelcoming tunnel.

According to the National Public Radio report, “Discrimination in America: Experiences and Views of LGBTQ Americans,” one out of every six transgender people avoids seeking medical care because they believe providers will treat them differently based on their gender identity alone. Patricia Cluff, Chief of Strategic Relations and Marketing, University of Virginia Health System (Charlottesville, VA), highlighted this unnerving reality in her recent presentation at the 2019 Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit.

“This is a long journey,” Cluff says. “We are at a point in time now where people are willing to say, ‘This is who I am and I’m proud of it.’ We need to be ready to respond to that.”

How does this affect communications, then? Cluff points out that, while broad organizational changes, such as weaving inclusive language into mission statements, are helpful, it is the day-to-day interactions that carry the most weight.

“When a faculty member goes into a room, they need to pause before they engage with the patient,” Cluff says. “If we do that, we will be more open when we do engage. At some point, we have to stop seeing past each other and embrace everything that people are. How we talk to patients needs to be more sensitive. We have to see the whole person.”

Share the Knowledge

To see the whole person, understanding the impact of language and communication is of utmost importance. One way UVA Health began to understand their impact was through evaluating multiple transgender patients’ journeys to provide insight into likely system exits. Not only are system exits bad for an organization’s reputation, they actually have more severe consequences: 31% of transgender people report that finding alternative hospital-based care is very difficult or altogether impossible. To avoid system exits, Cluff provides these four suggestions:

1. Refer to transgender patients by the name they go by, not the name on their birth certificate. Similarly, ask what pronouns the patient prefers and stick to them. Ensure this information is recorded in the EHR and communicated with anyone (including marketers pulling EHR data for targeting) who will interact with the patient.

2. Ensure patients are aware of existing transgender-specific care in the system. Making patients aware of transgender-specific care may mean providing them with otherwise unaccessible services, such as those around mental health.

3. Set a standard for team members working with transgender patients to communicate with each other, even if they are in different departments. If a patient sees that, for example, a team has not communicated with each other about an upcoming major surgery or treatment, the patient may begin to doubt the team’s capabilities and lose trust in the organization as a whole.

4. Create mandatory training around transgender care. 50% of patients report they had to teach their provider about transgender care, which is not something anyone wants to do when they are feeling unwell. Ensure training covers sensitivity and provides team members with information about gender dysphoria, including the best way to communicate with patients who have experienced psychological distress as a result of a negative healthcare experience.

Take a Moment

Health care at its core is a human interaction, and Cluff points out that, although we all come from different backgrounds, we are all capable of doing one thing: pausing.

“Think of the times you’ve been offended by someone who said something to you that they shouldn’t have,” she says. “If you see someone different from you, put yourself in their shoes. I don’t care what someone looks like—I just want to know we can provide the care that person needs. I want to be approachable. You have to think about what the world looks like to other people. You can make a difference just by taking a moment to say things differently. We are all humans, and we are messy—so just focus on making a connection with people.”


Learn more! Hear how other healthcare leaders are rethinking their communication standards. Order the 2019 Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit Playback.

Special Benefit for Forum Members: Listen to Patricia Cluff’s session, The Marketer’s Role in Inclusion and Diversity, presented at the 2019 Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit.

This post was developed in partnership with True North Custom, the official content partner for the 2019 Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit.

Sarah Fredriksson is a Managing Editor for True North Custom, a healthcare marketing agency based in Chattanooga, TN, that specializes in content strategies that build brand, drive consumer and referral revenues, and optimize marketing technology outcomes.

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