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By Kristen Mulvihill
Scheie Vision Annual Report 2019

César A. Briceño, MD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, presented the first talk to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) on caring for transgender patients in November 2018. In this talk, titled “How to Talk to Transgender Patients,” Dr. Briceño offered advice on how providers can begin to address some of the health care disparities affecting this population.

Transgender patients are an underserved population who often experience barriers in navigating the health system, which may prompt these individuals to delay or avoid seeking medical care. These challenges include decreased access to health care, discrimination by some health care providers, and lack of sensitivity and awareness to their unique health needs.

To ensure the transgender community receives more suitable patient-centered care, Dr. Briceño suggested strategies physicians and health care institutions can adopt to create a more inclusive environment for this population.

“I think the key to providing culturally competent care to any patient is to be as well-informed as possible,” said Dr. Briceño. “Language can be a powerful tool to promote inclusivity, and with simple training, we can make sure that we are not alienating vulnerable patient populations.”

To help this population obtain better care, Dr. Briceño advised physicians to foster a nonjudgmental and respectful environment, using inclusive language to reassure and welcome transgender patients. For example, physicians should not assume the patient’s gender identity, and instead should ask the patient’s preferred name and pronouns. Providers can also train clinical staff members on how to ask appropriate questions and how to use gender neutral language when applicable.

Dr. Briceño also suggested that health care institutions incorporate inclusive language and open-ended questions for all print and digital materials. For example, hospitals can update intake forms to include both the patient’s preferred and legal names. In terms of structural modifications, Dr. Briceño recommended including single occupancy restrooms with gender neutral signs in waiting areas. 

Awareness, respect, and education are key components in overcoming the barriers that contribute to health disparities experienced by the transgender community. Enhancing both interpersonal and clinical skills will help address these issues and create a more welcoming and comfortable environment for all patients. 

While there are still meaningful steps to be taken to promote inclusivity, Penn Medicine’s efforts to create a safe space to receive health care have distinguished the institute among national providers. In July, all six of Penn Medicine’s hospitals were recognized as 2019 leaders in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) health care equality by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. This foundation is the educational sect of the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.

“I believe in championing diversity and inclusion in all of its forms,” said Dr. Briceño. “The more informed we are as clinicians, the better care we can provide for all of our patients.”
 
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