Telemedicine’s Role in Addressing Disparities in HRT Care

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a vital treatment for two groups of patients: menopausal women and transgender individuals starting their transition. However, historically there have not been many ways to conveniently and safely access HRT. Thankfully, telemedicine has been showing promising results that can help fulfill the demand for HRT without sacrificing healthcare quality. Let’s take a look at how.

Middle Aged Woman

Middle Aged Woman

1.   The Current Landscape of HRT Care

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a critical healthcare service for menopausal women and transgender individuals. Despite its importance, current HRT care is riddled with disparities that hinder equitable access to quality treatments.

A.   Disparities in HRT Care for Transgender Individuals

Inconsistent access to healthcare is a significant barrier for transgender patients seeking HRT through licensed providers. There are many complex reasons for this, but the bottom line is that many would-be transgender patients are undergoing their medical transition without proper supervision. A study involving 314 transwomen in San Francisco revealed that while 68.7% were on HRT, only 41% reported consistent hormone use. Alarmingly, 49.1% resorted to using hormones not prescribed by clinicians.

Factors like being born in the U.S., full-time living as a female, and having healthcare contact were positively associated with consistent hormone use. At the same time, experiences of forced sex, rape, and verbal abuse due to gender identity significantly reduced it​.

Read Also: Why It’s Often Better to Delay Gender-Affirming Surgery Until Adulthood: Expert Insights in a Q&A

B.   Racial Disparities in HRT for Menopausal Women

Racial disparities significantly affect HRT prescription for menopausal women. A recent study on the issue found that despite experiencing more severe menopause symptoms, black women were prescribed HRT treatment less often compared to their white counterparts. This disparity may be linked to the underreporting of symptoms by patients, inadequate physician inquiry, or poor documentation.

As it happens, black women are more likely to deny menopause symptoms unless specifically asked, causing their symptoms to be underdiagnosed. The study was based on data from nearly 66,000 midlife women, including a significant percentage of black women, and found only 11% documented menopause symptoms, contrasting with prior reports of up to 80%.

Additionally, the study found that women with psychiatric conditions were more likely to have menopause symptoms, suggesting a complex interplay between psychological and physical health during menopause. However, in practice, black women with psychiatric conditions received hormone therapy significantly less than their white counterparts, with white women being 40% more likely to receive HRT prescriptions​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​.

C.  Underlying Causes of Disparities

It seems that several complex factors contribute to these disparities in HRT care. For transgender individuals, factors such as social stigmatization, lack of culturally competent healthcare, and economic barriers all play a role. The psychological difficulty of choosing to transition, coupled with stigmatization, anxiety over how friends and family will react, costs for HRT, and potential future surgeries, all contribute to the decision not to get this potentially life-saving treatment.

For menopausal women, particularly from BIPOC communities, systemic issues like cultural and structural racism are a big culprit. Cultural racism, with its implicit biases towards white people and structural racism in institutions like healthcare, creates barriers for BIPOC individuals in accessing quality care. These factors, compounded by racism and transphobia, increase the risk for conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, which can further complicate HRT care​​​​​​​​​​.

That’s why the landscape of HRT care, marred by these disparities, has such a need for systemic changes to ensure equitable access and quality treatment for all individuals requiring hormone therapy.  While we have only just begun to understand the reasons for these disparities fully, the numbers speak for themselves as to the general lack of consistent HRT care.

2.   Telemedicine’s Impact on Enhancing HRT Access

One resource that has been found to help address these challenges is the rise of telemedicine. Recent studies have found that telemedicine has significantly improved HRT access, helped address the disparities in distribution, and facilitated more inclusive care for all HRT patients. Here are just a few of the ways this has been accomplished:

A.   Increased Accessibility and Convenience

Telemedicine has transformed HRT, making it accessible from the comfort of home. This change is especially beneficial for those in rural or remote locations, or for individuals with mobility challenges. It also offers a psychological benefit, providing a judgment-free space for patients who prefer consultations in a familiar, controlled environment.

Furthermore, the flexibility and easy connectivity of virtual consultations have enhanced the accessibility and convenience of HRT. Patients no longer have to journey long distances or take time off work for appointments. The convenience of getting a prescription from an online HRT provider not only makes it easier for patients but also provides them with the tools to overcome some of the initial hurdles to getting started with HRT.

B.   Safe and Convenient Alternative

Telehealth offers a safe and convenient alternative to traditional in-person appointments. As a method for diagnosing and monitoring the need for HRT, it has already proven itself safe and effective. In addition, it also reduces the risk of exposure to infectious diseases, making it a safer option for patients during times like the COVID-19 pandemic. This, coupled with the ability to try out many different healthcare professionals from larger geographical areas, each provides added layers of safety and protection for HRT-seeking patients.

Read Also: Father of Modern Gender Reassignment: Dr. Georges Burou’s Groundbreaking Work in the Heart of Casablanca Morocco

C.  Facilitating Electronic Communications

The ability to communicate electronically with healthcare providers is another significant benefit of telemedicine. This feature allows patients to ask questions, receive test results, and have prescriptions refilled without needing physical appointments, thus enhancing HRT care’s overall efficiency and responsiveness.

Overall, telemedicine has substantially improved the accessibility, convenience, and effectiveness of HRT, making it a pivotal tool in addressing disparities in hormone care. By leveraging the advancements in technology, telemedicine is reshaping the way hormone therapy is accessed and administered, bringing vital treatment closer to those who need it most.

3.   Challenges and Limitations of Telemedicine in Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

We’ve seen how telemedicine provides significant resources to help with the accessibility, safety, and convenience of HRT, but unfortunately, there are still many obstacles to overcome.

A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted by JMIR Public Health and Surveillance looked at the usefulness of telemedicine for transgender individuals looking to begin HRT. This survey, which included responses from 269 transgender patients and 202 gynecological endocrinologists treating transgender patients, revealed that most respondents believed telemedicine to be useful. This matches our previous claims and shows that telemedicine is one way we have moving forward to the future of providing HRT.

However, the survey found a few areas of concern. Both clinicians and patients rated their knowledge of telemedicine as unsatisfactory. The study highlighted that while telemedicine was highly accepted among doctors and patients, its usage was limited. The absence of a structured framework was identified as a significant obstacle, as cultural norms and technical know-how are still in their early stages when it comes to the practice.

Additionally, physicians noted several challenges in introducing telemedicine, including the need for technical equipment purchase (65.3%), administrative hurdles (61.4%), and poor reimbursement policies (52.5%). We can break down the challenges found by the study into five broad categories:

  1. Technological Barriers: The advancement of telemedicine is still hampered by technological issues. Limited internet access in rural or disadvantaged areas and a lack of technical proficiency among patients pose significant challenges. To bridge this gap, infrastructure improvements, along with patient education and support for getting the technicals up and running, may help.
  2. Quality of Physical Assessment: Telemedicine’s reliance on virtual consultations can impede healthcare providers’ ability to conduct comprehensive physical examinations. Current HRT administration guidelines require the ability to diagnose certain conditions and monitor treatment effects through such in-person examinations. Solutions may include developing remote examination tools or integrating telemedicine with occasional in-person visits for a complete patient assessment.
  3. Personal Touch: The virtual nature of telemedicine can affect the development of a personal connection between patients and healthcare providers. Establishing trust is always a concern, but especially so when providing treatment for a sensitive subject like HRT.
  4. Data Security and Privacy Concerns: In a digital healthcare environment, safeguarding patient data is a top priority. Telemedicine faces the challenge of data breaches and unauthorized access to sensitive health information. Ensuring robust cybersecurity measures and compliance with data protection laws should be priorities.
  5. Limited Scope of Services: Telemedicine may not be suitable for all aspects of HRT care. Complex cases that require specialized diagnostic procedures or in-person interventions cannot be fully managed through telemedicine. This necessitates a hybrid care model, combining the convenience of telemedicine with traditional healthcare services.

Read Also: Testosterone Therapy Changes Trans-men’s Sexual Partner Preferences to Males: Could This Make Them Rethink Transition Surgery?

Key Takeaway

Our main takeaway should be that telemedicine has made significant strides in bridging the gap in healthcare service for patients in need of HRT, but at the same time, it still has substantial challenges to overcome. It should be used in conjunction with in-person healthcare to provide a more comprehensive range of options to all patients.

A hybrid model seems to be the most promising solution we currently have as we navigate these discrepancies inherent in providing HRT. More education on the subject, for both patients and doctors, as well as improvements in acceptance across society, should also help with treatments in the future, or so we can hope.

References

de Haan, G., Santos, G. M., Arayasirikul, S., & Raymond, H. F. (2015). Non-Prescribed Hormone Use and Barriers to Care for Transgender Women in San Francisco. LGBT Health, 2(4), 313-323. https://doi.org/10.1089/lgbt.2014.0128

Science X. (2023, September 27). Race matters when prescribing hormone therapy for menopausal women. Medical Xpress. Retrieved January 21, 2024, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-09-hormone-therapy-menopausal-women.html

FOLX Health. (2021, November 10). Hormone Replacement Therapy & Racial Health Disparities. FOLX Health. Retrieved January 21, 2024, from https://www.folxhealth.com/library/hrt-racial-health-disparities

HHM Global. (n.d.). HRT via Telehealth: How Online Hormone Care Is Reshaping Healthcare. HHM Global. Retrieved January 21, 2024, from https://www.hhmglobal.com/knowledge-bank/news/hrt-via-telehealth-how-online-hormone-care-is-reshaping-healthcare

Critchfield, H. (2020, July 8). Telehealth offers transgender people a new way to receive hormone therapy, during the pandemic and beyond. North Carolina Health News. Retrieved January 21, 2024, from http://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2020/07/08/telehealth-gives-transgender-patients-new-way-for-care/

Flottman, J. (n.d.). Why Telemedicine Could Be a Valuable Option for Hormone Therapy. HRT Doctors Group. Retrieved January 21, 2024, from https://hrtdoctorsgroup.com/why-telemedicine-could-be-a-valuable-option-for-hormone-therapy/

Hertling, S., Hertling, D., Martin, D., & Graul, I. (2021). Acceptance, Use, and Barriers of Telemedicine in Transgender Health Care in Times of SARS-CoV-2: Nationwide Cross-sectional Survey. JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, 7(12). https://doi.org/10.2196/30278

 

FEEDBACK:

Conversation

Want to Stay Informed?

Join the Gilmore Health News Newsletter!

Want to live your best life?

Get the Gilmore Health Weekly newsletter for health tips, wellness updates and more.

By clicking "Subscribe," I agree to the Gilmore Health and . I also agree to receive emails from Gilmore Health and I understand that I may opt out of Gilmore Health subscriptions at any time.