Planned Parenthood Continues To Bridge The Gap For Those Seeking Gender-Affirming Care

Dr. Bhavik Kumar said virtual telehealth services create an alternative for patients receiving gender-affirming care to do so in a way they want to and that is easier for them.
Dr. Bhavik Kumar said virtual telehealth services create an alternative for patients receiving gender-affirming care to do so in a way they want to and that is easier for them. Photo by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast
Since Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast first launched its telehealth services, more and more of its patients are taking advantage of this method of care – particularly those who are transgender or gender diverse.

Dr. Bhavik Kumar, the medical director for primary and trans care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, said this is largely due to accessibility issues in finding gender-affirming care.

“They (patients) have to drive about an hour plus whatever traffic adds to that each way,” Kumar said. “It can be really difficult to get a health center, especially one that can provide this care. Most of the health centers are going to be concentrated in urban areas, but not all people live close to these areas.”

According to Kumar, PPGC providing this virtual care bridges the gap for about a third of the organization’s patients receiving hormone therapy  – a type of gender-affirming care – who live more than 50 miles from one of its health center.

He added that these services also allow patients to start or continue this type of care in a safe and secure environment.

“So many transgender and gender diverse folks have had bad experiences with accessing health care,” Kumar said. “We’ve heard from patients that when they’re able to access it via telehealth, from the comfort of their own home or wherever they choose to do it, it makes it less stressful and anxiety-provoking for them.

Kumar said some of the common concerns he hears from patients include worrying about their interactions with staff or whether they will be misgendered or questioned by other healthcare providers.

Patients who are receiving or starting hormone therapy from Texas and Louisiana who prefer physical visits for consultations and follow-ups can visit PPGC’s New Orleans health center, where in-person services are provided.

However, Kumar said because hormone therapy is routine care for transgender and gender diverse patients, most only opt to visit in person if they are required to for a blood test or exam.

Kumar said these patients and others can also use virtual telehealth for other primary care needs usually covered during check-ups, such as monitoring blood pressure, thyroid conditions and managing diabetes (if the patient is diagnosed). Additionally, it provides access to contraception.

Since Senate Bill 14 – a Texas law that restricts gender-affirming care for transgender youth and prohibits healthcare professionals from providing it to minors – took effect in September, Kumar said telehealth has also helped physicians continue to navigate the political landscape.

Although SB 14 does not affect the population of patients who receive gender-affirming care at PPGC because they are 18 and older, Kumar said transgender adults are still watching what may come next.

“I think what we’ve seen when there is rapidly changing legislation, whether or not it directly harms our patients, it’s harming the communities that they are a part of, and there is often a sense of panic,” he said. “We see that concern from our patients, even though they’re not directly affected by the laws that have been passed.”
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.