Fear of being stigmatized by health care professionals is a barrier for many patients who are members of the LGBT community -- it's one of the most-reported reasons transgender individuals do not go to the doctor.
Kale Edmiston and Lauren Mitchell, Ph.D. candidates at Vanderbilt, want to change that. This month the pair, along with a dedicated group of volunteers, will begin serving as advocates for a pilot program called Trans Buddy.
The support system will be used throughout Vanderbilt University Medical Center and its clinics.
"It has become very clear that this kind of program is needed in the Nashville area," said Edmiston. "We have received requests for assistance from providers as well as trans people who are afraid to go to the doctor.
"We are focused on providing the best possible patient-centered care to improve patient outcomes," he said. "We have folks who are afraid to even walk in the door. That fear is very real."
The peer advocacy volunteer group is made up of people who have been involved in other LGBT projects or have an interest in the health care of marginalized communities, said Edmiston.
The Trans Buddy program falls under the umbrella of Vanderbilt's Program for LGBTI Health, which is an innovative effort to improve health care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) patients. It is housed within the School of Medicine's Office for Diversity in Medical Education.
Edmiston, associate director of the Program for LGBTI Health, and Mitchell are leading the charge for Trans Buddy.
"Transgender people face barriers to accessing health care," Edmiston said.
"I want transgender patients to know that they can come to Vanderbilt and be treated with respect. Through Trans Buddy, patients will have the support of someone they can relate to and trust."
Trans Buddy will provide support services during scheduled primary care, clinic and specialty appointments as well as have an on-call service for emergent care.
"We acknowledge that there may be challenges when providing care for transgender patients," Eckstrand said. "But we want to provide support for the best patient-provider relationship. "Recognizing that there is a steep learning curve for health care of transgender patients is a huge step. Trans Buddy is a way to support patients while the health care system is learning."
The Trans Buddy model of providing advocacy for patients has been used extensively for patients from various cultures, ethnicities, religions and linguistic backgrounds.
As the Trans Buddy program is being rolled out, Eckstrand said that their office is receiving inquiries from across the country.
"It is a novel idea that others in the academic health care setting are seeking to adopt," she said. "It is important that we support transgender patients and help create a therapeutic alliance."
The Trans Buddy Program will train peer advocates to help streamline communication between patients, staff and providers as well as help reduce patient anxiety surrounding receipt of care in hopes of reducing the delay of care.
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