Why won’t my doctor’s office respect my chosen name or pronouns? While many healthcare practitioners are striving to be more inclusive in their forms and documentation, many patients still run into problems with being misgendered or dead-named during healthcare appointments. This can be a very triggering experience for many patients, but there is often more behind this issue than a lack of awareness or respect.
Our current healthcare system relies on information known as ‘patient identifiers’ which allows everyone from the receptionist to the physician or nurse practitioner to be sure that they are speaking to the correct person. This protects patients in many ways, such as from having their private medical information given out incorrectly, or making sure that the nurse is administering medication to the correct person. The two most commonly used patient identifiers are name and date of birth, but can include other things such as patient photos.
So why can’t they use my chosen name instead of my legal name? In many cases, this is due to insurance and billing issues. Many facilities use electronic health records, or EHR systems, which allow for easier documentation and billing. However, these systems are usually not designed to allow for alternative names, and must match the name on a patient’s insurance card and photo ID. In order for the office to bill your insurance, they have to show that they provided treatment to the person covered by the insurance, which they do by providing information contained in the EHR.
This protects patients in many ways, such as from having their private medical information given out incorrectly, or making sure that the nurse is administering medication to the correct person. The two most commonly used patient identifiers are name and date of birth, but can include other things such as patient photos.
Alright, so they have to have my legal name and sex on file, but why can’t they respect my chosen name and pronouns during my appointments? That part is a bit more tricky, but also in many ways comes back to the EHR system. Even if the system used allows for a different name or pronouns to be listed, this information is usually buried somewhere in the system, and is not what is displayed on the screen when the nurse or provider is checking your record during your appointment. A provider who is a strong ally may already be aware of this shortcoming in their system and have created workarounds to ensure that they are using the correct name and pronouns, especially if they see that patient regularly. However,if you only see your provider a few times each year, they are unlikely to personally remember you well enough to realize that they are dead-naming or misgendering you.
What can I do about this? This is where being your own advocate comes in. When you make your appointment, remind the receptionist of your correct name and pronouns. You may also need to remind them when you check in for the appointment. Hopefully, the receptionist will pass this along before you are called back to the exam room, but if not, you may have to remind the nurse as well. A good nurse will make sure to let the practitioner know before they come in. While your healthcare provider may not have any control over the EHR system, as these systems can cost thousands of dollars, they may be open to hearing ideas of other ways they can make their practice more inclusive.