Factors Impacting Transgender Patients’ Discomfort with Their Family Physicians

A Respondent-Driven Sampling Survey

Representing approximately 0.5% of the population, transgender (trans) persons in Canada depend on family physicians for both general and transition-related care. However, physicians receive little to no training on this patient population, and trans patients are often profoundly uncomfortable and may avoid health care. This study examined factors associated with patient discomfort discussing trans health issues with a family physician in Ontario, Canada.

Methods – 433 trans people age 16 and over were surveyed using respondent-driven sampling for the Trans PULSE Project; 356 had a family physician. Weighted logistic regression models were fit to produce prevalence risk ratios (PRRs) via average marginal predictions, for transmasculine (n = 184) and transfeminine (n = 172) trans persons.

Results – Among the 83.1% (95% CI = 77.4, 88.9) of trans Ontarians who had a family physician, approximately half reported discomfort discussing trans health issues. 37.2% of transmasculine and 38.1% of transfeminine persons reported at least one trans-specific negative experience. In unadjusted analysis, sociodemographics did not predict discomfort, but those who planned to medically transition sex, but had not begun, were more likely to report discomfort (transmasculine: PRR = 2.62 (95% CI = 1.44, 4.77); transfeminine: PRR = 1.85 (95% CI = 1.08, 3.15)). Adjusted for other factors, greater perceived physician knowledge about trans issues was associated with reduced likelihood of discomfort, and previous trans-specific negative experiences with a family physician with increased discomfort. Transfeminine persons who reported three or more types of negative experiences were 2.26 times as likely, and transmasculine persons 1.61 times as likely, to report discomfort. In adjusted analyses, sociodemographic associations differed by gender, with being previously married or having higher education associated with increased risk of discomfort among transfeminine persons, but decreased risk among transmasculine persons.

Conclusions – Within this transgender population, discomfort in discussing trans health issues with a family physician was common, presenting a barrier to accessing primary care despite having a regular family physician and “universal” health insurance.

Reference: Bauer GR, Zong X, Scheim AI, Hammond R, Thind A. Factors impacting transgender patients’ discomfort with their family physicians: a respondent driven sampling study. PLoS ONE 2015; 10(12): e0145046.