The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine, presenting new opportunities for healthcare access to historically underserved populations, including transgender and gender-diverse (TGD) youth. A recent study conducted at the Seattle Children’s Gender Clinic (SCGC) explored the impact of telemedicine on access to gender-affirming care for TGD adolescents during this challenging period.
The study discovered that the expansion of telemedicine services facilitated continued access to essential gender-affirming care throughout the pandemic. Telemedicine encounters were more likely to be completed and less likely to be canceled, suggesting a significant improvement in overall care access. This finding supports existing research highlighting the crucial role telemedicine has played in maintaining access to routine care during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for vulnerable populations.
The researchers also examined the potential of telemedicine in addressing disparities in access to gender-affirming care. Although the introduction of telemedicine did not exacerbate existing disparities, it did not reduce them for groups of TGD youth who have been historically underrepresented in pediatric gender clinics, such as youth of color and those living in rural areas. The majority of SCGC’s patients are White, have private health insurance and are based in urban areas. These ongoing disparities emphasize the need for further research and community-informed interventions to improve access to care for underrepresented TGD youth.
In addition to its benefits, the study revealed potential challenges associated with telemedicine. Telemedicine encounters were more likely to result in no-shows, indicating a need for new reminder systems to promote visit attendance during telemedicine visits. Existing reminder systems designed for in-person visits may not adequately meet the needs of patients and their families who utilize telemedicine services.
The findings also highlight the importance of improving health system-level and health information technology systems to allow patients to seamlessly transition between in-person and telemedicine visits as their needs change. By addressing these challenges, healthcare providers can further optimize the telemedicine experience for TGD youth and their families.
Despite some limitations, such as a relatively short post-telemedicine study period and reliance on electronic health record data, the study emphasizes the importance of telemedicine in the ongoing provision of gender-affirming care services for TGD youth. Further research is needed to better understand the impact of telemedicine use on access to care and inform the development of interventions to improve access and utilization of pediatric gender-affirming care services.
This study highlights the transformative potential of telemedicine in revolutionizing access to gender-affirming care for TGD adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic. As healthcare providers continue to navigate the challenges presented by the pandemic, the integration of telemedicine into the care continuum offers promising opportunities to address disparities and ensure equitable access to vital services for TGD youth.