Transgender Telemedicine and Telehealth Services: A Tremendous Asset

Dr. Maheu, Telehealth.org

August 2021

Telehealth services can also be effective in reaching communities not isolated by location but marginalized by identity.

One of the most significant arguments for telehealth services is their ability to reach people in underserved communities. Telehealth.org described some of the foundational issues in its article The Future of Telehealth, Teletherapy, and Telemedicine. The article specifically highlighted telehealth as a means of overcoming geographic limitations. However, telehealth services can also be similarly effective in reaching communities not isolated by location but marginalized by identity. In particular, transgender telemedicine & telehealth services provide significant benefits to the trans community.

Challenges Facing the Transgender Community
Telehealth.org outlined many challenges facing transgender individuals seeking services in its article Transgender Telemedicine: Inequities and Barriers in Health Care Access. In seeking therapy services, one of the most substantial dissuading factors reported by transgender individuals is fear of discrimination.

This fear does not come without significant evidence. Last year, the Supreme Court decided to extend trans individuals the same discrimination protections other groups already experience under employment laws. Even after that landmark decision, 38% of Americans still indicate they do not support the rights of trans people. With so-called bathroom bills and legislation that prevents trans girls and women from participating on sports teams for women, the current American legislative landscape continues to be challenging. Location and marginalization often intersect. Trans individuals living in rural areas often face a general lack of available services. Additionally, available clinicians usually do not have a trans-informed perspective. Similar concerns exist in politically conservative areas.

How Transgender Telemedicine and Telehealth Services Help the Trans Community
As noted above, telehealth services have already been an asset to assist individuals who are geographically isolated. It should be just as effective in reaching trans individuals in those areas as helping others. For those isolated by discrimination and fear of discrimination due to their trans status, telehealth can also help. By allowing people in the trans community to reach beyond their geographic limitations, they immediately have access to a larger pool of supportive clinicians who can provide trans-informed services.

Telehealth transgender services also provide increased anonymity to a degree for trans people. In many of rural America’s small towns, people know each other by vehicle. Seeing someone’s vehicle parked in front of a mental health or drug treatment facility can often send the town’s gossip mill into a tailspin. By accessing discrete trans telemedicine or telehealth services to their homes, people avoid this harmful exposure.

Can Transgender Telemedicine & Telehealth Services Continue?
Trans individuals used telehealth 20 times more in the past 18 months than they ever have before. This new safe therapy avenue, however, may not last. Just two weeks ago, four states either ended many of their telehealth expansion policies or announced their intention to do so. Federally, the waivers introduced by the CARES Act will expire in October unless renewed or made permanent. The system is in transition and it may well end up leaving behind some of the progress it has made.

Transgender Telemedicine and Telehealth Advocacy

The time is now to reach out to your officials, state and federal, and advocate for more permanent laws that expand telehealth services and reimbursement. Sharing case examples without client identifying information and your passion for the issue could be just the sort of personal advocacy needed. Your voice may persuade elected officials to act quickly and empathetically on behalf of the trans community and everyone else who will benefit from telehealth support.

Rural Transgender Report: https://www.lgbtmap.org/file/Rural-Trans-Report-Nov2019.pdf