The likelihood that a trauma or acute care surgeon will encounter or treat a transgender patient in an emergency setting is increasing every year.

The number of patients who self-identify as transgender and who have undergone both medical and/or surgical gender-affirming treatment is on the rise. The trend has accelerated since private insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid are now covering some of the costs ( JAMA Surg. 2018 Feb 28. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2017.6231 ).

However, health issues pertaining to transgender individuals are rarely covered in medical schools, and little has been reported in the medical literature about how to care for this population in a trauma setting. A review article published online in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery provides some early recommendations for managing transgender patients in the trauma bay ( 2018 Feb 27; doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000001859 ).

Lead author Samuel Mandell, MD , FACS, a trauma surgeon at the University of Washington Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, and his colleagues quote an estimate of 1 million transgender people in the United States. These individuals, many of whom have experienced gender dysphoria, in addition to stigma and negative psychosocial sequelae, may or may not have sought medical treatment. Medical interventions range from hormonal treatments to craniofacial plastic surgery and/or genital surgery.

“As transgender patients are more likely to be victims of assault and intimate partner violence or suicide, they are at increased risk for traumatic injury,” Dr. Mandell and coauthors said. More than 60% of the transgender population has been subjected to assault and more than 40% have attempted suicide. A recent study found that 42% of transgender individuals had a history on nonsuicidal self-injury ( Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2017;40:41-50 ). The research team based their recommendations on managing transgender trauma patients on their own experience, and suggest some topics for future research

The authors searched the MEDLINE database for articles with the key words “trauma” or “injury” and “transgender/transsexual,” in addition to “surgery” and “transgender.” While the search yielded 388 articles, only 6 were relevant to acute care surgery or physical trauma/injury in the transgender population. “No articles were identified that addressed trauma/injury from the perspective of caring for the injured transgender patient,” Dr. Mandell and coauthors said.

The researchers recommend that the trauma surgeon begin if possible by working to establish patient-provider trust. “During surgical consultation, it is important to be aware that any transgender patient may have limited or negative interactions with general health care providers due to the significant discrimination this population faces,” the investigators wrote. Among the steps they suggest for the initial encounter with transgender patients are respectful questions about gender identity, asking what name they prefer, as well as what pronoun should be used.

Privacy concerns can be of particular sensitivity. “Care must be taken to maintain privacy for the patient, as others outside of the hospital may not know they are transgender. Consultation with the patient’s primary care provider may be beneficial to determine the extent of gender-affirmation and the patient’s disclosure to family and friends,” the investigator advised. In addition, the clinician needs to establish which if any nonmedical interventions the transgender patients has had. These may include nonprescription hormone therapy and silicone injections.

The encounter should include an evaluation for injury to genitalia. “Transgender patients may have significant dysphoria associated with their preoperative genitals,” Dr. Mandell and his coauthors said. In these cases, “involvement of providers experienced with examination of transgender patients should be sought, if possible.” These patients should be screened for potential abuse by a companion or self-injury, the investigators suggested.

Dr. Mandell and his coauthors also discussed some of the nuances of trauma care for this population. For example, transgender women may need a smaller endotracheal tube for establishing an airway as intubation to avoid damaging surgically altered vocal chords. Other craniofacial alterations can get in the way of establishing an airway. Clinicians also should keep in mind the increased likelihood of a venous thromboembolism from estrogen hormone therapy in immobilized transgender patients in the trauma setting. Implants and surgical alterations can add a layer of complexity to reading images. Anatomical rearrangement can make catheterization challenging.

Dr. Mandell and his coauthors concluded, “Further research is needed on the appropriate management of cross-gender hormones, dosing of medications and nutrition, and the special considerations for injury patterns and risks in transgender patients. Development of a system for quickly determining the state of gender-affirmation of the patient in regards to hormone therapy, surgeries, and social aspects may prove beneficial to providers in the setting of trauma, but involvement of the transgender population in the development of any such system is crucial.”

Eileen M. Bulger, MD , FACS, Chair ACS Committee on Trauma and one of the coauthors of the study, views the findings as potentially useful to meet the training deficit on transgender trauma issues. “As trauma surgeons, we strive to provide optimal care by attending to the physical, psychological, and social needs of our patients. This review raises awareness of critical issues to consider when caring for transgender patients and should be included in our educational programs for trauma fellowship training and used as a resource to raise awareness in our trauma centers.”

Dr. Mandell and his coauthors reported having no financial disclosures.


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