Given that approximately 9.5% of youth aged 13-17 in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ),1 it is likely that a general pediatrician or pediatric subspecialist is going to encounter at least one LGBTQ patient during the course of the average workweek. By having an easy way to identify these patients and store this data in a user-friendly manner, you can ensure that your practice is LGBTQ friendly and an affirming environment for all sexual- and gender-minority youth.
One way to do this is to look over any paper or electronic forms your practice uses and make sure that they provide patients and families a range of options to identify themselves. For example, you could provide more options for gender, other than male or female, including a nonbinary or “other” (with a free text line) option. This allows your patients to give you an accurate description of what their affirmed gender is. Instead of having a space for mother’s name and father’s name, you could list these fields as “parent/guardian #1” and “parent/guardian #2.” These labels allow for more inclusivity and to reflect the diverse makeup of modern families. Providing a space for a patient to put the name and pronouns that they use allows your staff to make sure that you are calling a patient by the correct name and using the correct pronouns.
Within your EMR, there may be editable fields that allow for you or your staff to list the patient’s affirmed name and pronouns. Making this small change allows any staff member who accesses the chart to have that information displayed correctly for them and reduces the chances of staff misgendering or dead-naming a patient. Underscoring the importance of this, Sequeira et al. found that in a sample of youth from a gender clinic, only 9% of those adolescents reported that they were asked their name/pronouns outside of the gender clinic.2 If those fields are not there, you may check with your IT staff or your EMR vendor to see if these fields may be added in. However, staff needs to make sure that they check with the child/adolescent first to discern with whom the patient has discussed their gender identity. If you were to put a patient’s affirmed name into the chart and then call the patient by that name in front of the parent/guardian, the parent/guardian may look at you quizzically about why you are calling their child by that name. This could then cause an uncomfortable conversation in the exam room or result in harm to the patient after the visit.
It is not just good clinical practice to ensure that you use a patient’s affirmed name and pronouns. Russell et al. looked at the relationship between depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation and whether an adolescent’s name/pronouns were used in the context of their home, school, work, and/or friend group. They found that use of an adolescent’s affirmed name in at least one of these contexts was associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms and a 29% decrease in suicidal ideation.3 Therefore, the use of an adolescent’s affirmed name and pronouns in your office contributes to the overall mental well-being of your patients.
Fortunately, there are many guides to help you and your practice be successful at implementing some of these changes. The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Health Access Project put together its “Community Standards of Practice for the Provision of Quality Health Care Services to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Clients” to aid practices in developing environments that are LGBTQ affirming. The National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center, a part of the Fenway Institute, has a series of learning modules that you and your staff can view for interactive training and tips for best practices. These resources offer pediatricians and their practices free resources to improve their policies and procedures. By instituting these small changes, you can ensure that your practice continues to be an affirming environment for your LGBTQ children and adolescents.
Dr. Cooper is assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, and an adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.
1. Conran KJ., UCLA School of Law, Williams Institute, 2020 Sep.
2. Sequeira GM et al. Affirming transgender youths’ names and pronouns in the electronic medical record..
3. Russell ST et al. Chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior among transgender youth..