Researchers writing in one of the world’s most influential medical journals have urged doctors to learn how to interact with non-binary patients.
“As our society’s concept of gender evolves, so does the visibility of contemporary non-binary people,” University of Minnesota medical school resident Dr. Walter Liszewski and his co-authors wrote in a perspective piece for the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. “Yet many members of the medical community may not know how to interact with non-binary patients respectfully or recognize their unique needs and barriers to care.”
Among the most troubling survey findings that Liszewski highlights: nearly a quarter of “gender-minority patients” have avoided going to the doctor “for fear of discrimination,” and roughly one in five have been denied medical treatment based on their identity.
“Our findings really highlight that there’s a lot of skepticism and hesitancy around non-binary and gender non-conforming patients to engage with health care professionals,” Liszewski, who was not available for comment, said in a press release.
Citing guidelines from the San Francisco-based Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, Liszewski and his co-authors recommend that doctors can ask for an “organ inventory” rather than making assumptions about a non-binary patient based on their physical appearance. In other words, doctors can determine which non-binary patients might need mammograms and which prostate exams without assigning them a gender.
Doctors can also use intake forms that ask patients to highlights any differences between the sex they were assigned at birth and their current gender, thereby flagging a transgender or non-binary status before the first patient interaction takes place.
“My hope is that physicians who read the article will become aware of non-binary patients, and realize we need to do a better job of allowing these individuals to access quality health care,” said Liszewski.
The paper is the latest and one of the most high-profile calls for physicians—who, incidentally, are still learning how to care for transgender men and women—to find ways to be more inclusive of non-binary people, many of whom report facing challenges at the doctor’s office