Have you ever made a doctor’s appointment, only to be turned away and told that your doctor couldn’t help you?
It’s a problem transgender people regularly face in the healthcare system.
“A lot of times a trans person will walk into a doctor’s office and at the end of the conversation, the doctor will thank the trans person for educating them,” Robyn Kanner, a 28-year-old graphic designer and transgender woman from Boston, told TI.
One in four transgender people delay seeking medical treatment due to discrimination, according to a study by the National LGBTQ Task Force.
Kanner, along with three of her friends, founded the website MyTransHealth to combat these issues. All four of the website’s founders identify as transgender, so MyTransHealth is taking what they call a “for trans people, by trans people” approach to healthcare.
The site, which will officially launch in New York City and Miami this fall, is designed to connect the people with professionals who are prepared to help transgender patients, individually screening each doctor and healthcare provider to ensure quality of care.
Since starting a Kickstarter campaign on Monday, MyTransHealth has already raised $US22,087, more than their goal of $US20,000. There are still 27 days left for people to donate. It looks like the Kanner and her colleagues aren’t the only ones concerned about this issue.
“There’s way smaller list of options available for the trans community,” says Kanner of the medical professionals trained to appropriately treat transgender patients. “And it’s often with no intention of malice — more often than not, it’s with no intention at all.”
It’s not just about finding a doctor to perform a routine physical or a test for strep throat. Transgender patients present a unique set of medical needs, such as hormone replacement therapy and the mental health support often needed for a successful gender transition.
“We are constantly seeking out ways to personalise the ZocDoc experience for our patients,” a ZocDoc representative told TI. “The ‘Professional Statement’ section of ZocDoc profiles gives doctors an opportunity to express not only qualifications and accolades, but also care philosophies and specialties.”
While many doctors’ profiles on ZocDoc explain that they are trans-friendly, there is currently no way to specifically search for just those professionals and filter out those that are not. “A site like WebMD or ZocDoc could help you, but it won’t exactly target to you,” explained Kanner. “It comes down to finding professionals that the trans community can trust.”
To do this, Kanner and her colleagues are individually assessing each professional the site will recommend, a process they believe sets MyTransHealth apart from other transgender healthcare platforms, like Rad Remedy.
“We’re pre-screening the doctors themselves before we put them on our website,” Kanner explained. “We’re not just throwing up names of doctors we’ve googled. We’re talking to them personally and training them.”
The website was inspired by the founders’ negative experiences in doctors’ offices, ranging from emotionally taxing to physically dangerous.
“I had a doctor who didn’t understand that one of the reasons I had kidney stones was because I was on estrogen,” Kanner told TI. “Kade Clark [a MyTransHealth cofounder] had a doctor who prescribed him the wrong meds for six months based on his hormones.”
And it’s not just the MyTransHealth founders who have experienced these kinds of issues.
“We’ve received hundreds of emails from people all over who have been generous enough to share their experiences with us so that we can design MyTransHealth with their needs in mind,” Kanner explained.
The number one complaint?
“Access to hormones,” Kanner told TI. “Without a doubt.”
It’s a problem Kanner knows all too well. When she started seeking hormone treatments for herself in 2006, Kanner says she was turned away by three different therapists. All told her they just didn’t have the right skills to help her transition.
It was a year before she found someone who could help her.
“There can be a lot gatekeeping within the system,” Kanner said. “MyTransHealth is manipulating that system.”
“Gatekeeping,” Kanner explained, is the process of controlling access and rights to a community or individual. For transgender people, gatekeeping can mean the difference between receiving treatments, such as hormone replacement therapy, or walking away empty handed.
“With MyTransHealth, we’re making sure that when a trans person does walk in [to a doctor’s office], the person they’re going to see won’t be weird to them, touch their body strangely, or ask inappropriate questions,” Kanner said.
It’s not a perfect system. Kanner acknowledges that accessibility is going to be a major hurdle for the site.
“We’ve had a lot of people reach out to us who might not have citizenship status or access to health care where they live, so we’re still trying to figure out ways for those people to benefit from MyTransHealth too,” she noted.
For Kanner, providing the transgender community with access to quality healthcare can’t happen quickly enough.
“Just last week at an appointment with my new primary care physician. She asked me why I take Estradiol [a form of the hormone estrogen] and when I responded that it’s because I’m a trans woman, she asked if that would make me grow breasts,” Kanner said. “The whole time I was thinking, ‘How could you not know that hormone replacement therapy would help me grow breasts?'”
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