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Patient Experiences and Provider Perspectives on Accessing Gender-Affirming Surgical Services in the Veterans Health Administration.

Boyer TL, Wolfe HL, Littman AJ, Shipherd JC, Kauth MR, Blosnich JR. Patient Experiences and Provider Perspectives on Accessing Gender-Affirming Surgical Services in the Veterans Health Administration. Journal of general internal medicine. 2023 Dec 1; 38(16):3549-3557.

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BACKGROUND: Transgender and gender diverse (TGD) veterans have a greater prevalence of suicide morbidity and mortality than cisgender veterans. Gender-affirming surgery (GAS) has been shown to improve mental health for TGD veterans. In 2021, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) announced the initiation of a rulemaking process to cover GAS for TGD patients. OBJECTIVE: This study explores patients' and providers' perspectives about access to GAS and other gender-affirming medical interventions not offered in the VHA including barriers, facilitators, and clinical and policy recommendations. PARTICIPANTS: TGD patients (n = 30) and VHA providers (n = 22). APPROACH: Semi-structured telephone interviews conducted from August 2019 through January 2020. Two TGD analysts used conventional and directed content analysis to code transcribed data. KEY RESULTS: VHA policy exclusions were the most cited barrier to GAS. Additional barriers included finding information about GAS, traveling long distances to non-VHA surgeons, out-of-pocket expenses, post-surgery home care, and psychological challenges related to the procedure. Factors facilitating access included surgical care information from peers and VHA providers coordinating care with non-VHA GAS providers. Pre- and post-operative care through the VHA also facilitated receiving surgery; however, patients and providers indicated that knowledge of these services is not widespread. Respondents recommended disseminating information about GAS-related care and resources to patients and providers to help patients navigate care. Additional recommendations included expanding access to TGD mental health specialists and establishing referrals to non-VHA GAS providers through transgender care coordinators. Finally, transfeminine patients expressed the importance of facial GAS and hair removal. CONCLUSIONS: A policy change to include GAS in the VHA medical benefits package will allow the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States to provide evidence-based GAS services to TGD patients. For robust and consistent policy implementation, the VHA must better disseminate information about VHA-provided GAS-related care to TGD patients and providers while building capacity for GAS delivery.

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