Imagine checking in for an appointment with your primary care doctor, and you notice your forms show the wrong gender marker. You might feel confused, hurt, question how well your doctor knows you or how to offer you proper care.
Transgender, nonbinary and other gender diverse people fear instances like this when they seek health care, like a nurse calling their wrong name or receiving incorrect treatment because of their outdated gender marker. Finding providers who know how to treat non-cisgender people would be ideal, but that’s not a simple feat.
Typing key words for transgender-affirming care in a search engine calls up LGBTQ-specific providers. It’s more difficult to find everyday health care services, like dentists or primary care doctors, who respect and understand gender diverse patients.
Gender-affirming providers are not only doctors who perform plastic surgeries or administer hormone replacement therapy. They’re doctors, nurses, front desk staff and everyone in a medical office who know how to respectfully care for gender diverse patients.
Some resources exist that help transgender people find plastic surgeons or endocrinologists who affirm people’s gender physically. Taylor Chiang, a second year student at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School who came up with TranZap, wants people to find “gender-affirming [providers] to get regular old routine care.”
“A big barrier to health care is being afraid that you’re going to be discriminated against or not knowing information,” Chiang said. “Whether or not a primary care provider is gender-affirming, that information is lacking.”
Transgender people face a high risk of physical and mental health problems, but are “consistently and systemically underserved by the American medical system,” a Center for American Progress report reads. Some 62% of transgender respondents said they worried about being judged based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in health care settings, according to TransPop survey results.
Chiang experienced uncomfortable conversations surrounding their identity in health care settings before. They typically searched for providers who accepted their insurance, or heard about affirming providers via word of mouth. Sometimes, they “risked” the provider lacking knowledge about caring for and talking to transgender and gay patients.
They had connections to transgender people seeking similar care, but they wondered about gender diverse people who didn’t have that community, who struggled to find health care. That inspired TranZap.
It’s built by transgender people — Chiang and their co-founder Eli Lucherini, a computer science doctoral candidate at Princeton University — for trans people. Transgender people power the app as well — it relies on people sharing their provider reviews in order to help others.
The app allows gender diverse people to review health care providers by answering a series of questions. Some ask for simple “yes” or “no” responses, like “Did the provider ask your pronouns? Did they use your correct pronouns?” Others ask for written responses, like the overarching question “How was your experience with this provider?”
Questions probe users about facilities as well as the people who work within them, like “Did this office have trans staff members of color that I could ask questions?” Chiang said.
“[TranZap is] really building on the whole community aspect of, I think, what really drives the LGBTQ+ community, building on that idea that we really do support each other and want each other to succeed, get the health care they need and feel good about it,” Chiang said.
Beyond serving as a source for transgender people, Chiang’s mentor Gloria Bachmann believes TranZap could also provide ongoing education for medical professionals. Bachmann serves as medical director of the PROUD Gender Center of New Jersey as well as director of Rutgers Medical School’s Women’s Health Institute.
“Clinicians and providers will talk about [the app], they will discuss it in smaller meetings and in the hallways in the hospital,” Bachmann said. “This will be ever-present, in your face so that it will be a continual education that ‘yes, I have to provide the best possible care to everyone.'”
Chiang plans to begin beta testing TranZap in November with a small group of New Jersey residents. They hope it rolls out to the general public after the new year. Beta testers are mostly associated with Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the PROUD Gender Center.
The team plans to autofill a small batch of providers into the database who have worked with PROUD for testing purposes. But the “ultimate goal,” Chiang said, is accepting reviews for providers in all health care fields.
If beta testing goes well, the app will expand to cover states around New Jersey and, possibly, reach even farther.
Chiang hopes, whoever the app reaches, TranZap helps users feel “really comfortable” choosing providers.
“At the very least, [people] have the information that they feel they need to make better, informed decisions and to actually go forward and see those folks,” Chiang said.
Sammy Gibbons is a culture reporter for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Region How We Live team. Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @sammykgibbons. For unlimited access to the most important news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.