WASHINGTON, Feb. 29 (UPI) -- Quality medical care has historically not been easy for transgender patients to find, and new study from George Washington University shows doctors are aware of the problem.
In a survey of attendees at an American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists conference, just one in five said they are "very" comfortable discussing gender identity or sexual orientation, and less than half said they are "somewhat" or "very" competent to provide care to transgender patients.
Researchers involved with the study report that education and training on transgender issues and care have increased over the last decade, and nearly two-thirds of those surveyed -- endocrinologists often treat transgender patients with hormone therapy -- said they are willing to provide care to transgender patients, but many currently do not have any.
"Progress has been made, but there is still more work to be done," Dr. Michael Irwig, an associate professor of medicine at George Washington University, said in a press release. "More exposure to transgender patients during residency and more research on interventions to overcome discomfort in discussing sexuality and gender are needed."
For the study, published in the journal Endocrine Press, researchers administered a 19-item survey to 80 conference attendees, which included 61 endocrinologists, 13 endocrinology fellows, 2 pediatric endocrinologists and 4 nurse practitioners.
Though 63 percent said they were willing to provide transgender care, researchers report the majority were not treating any transgender patients at the time of the survey. Half of care providers in the survey said they had read the Endocrine Society's practice guidelines for transgender patients, 70 percent of whom were under age 40.
Overall, just 20 percent said they were "very" comfortable discussing gender identity or sexual orientation, and 41 percent described themselves as "somewhat" or "very" competent to provide transgender care.
Researchers said the survey results show signs that transgender care has improved since the Endocrine Society updates its guidelines in 2009, however with more transgender patients in the system, physicians and care providers require training to meet the patient population's needs.
The high number of care providers under 40 in the study who are familiar with care guidelines is a positive indicator for what needs to happen, Irwig said.
"The transgender community represents one of the most underserved and marginalized populations in health care," Irwig said. "It is therefore up to the physician population to become more familiar with their needs and train the next generation to be culturally competent and prepared to treat this growing community."