Wrene Robyn, a software engineer in MGH Cardiology, was still in high school in 1987 when she began her journey as a transgender woman. For years, her path was marked by roadblocks, including she says, abandonment by family and friends, sexual assault, safety concerns, money troubles and a suicide attempt. During an early visit to a California lesbian and gay organization, she sought help from the program director about homelessness issues, only to be turned away.

Fast forward almost 30 years, and Robyn is now directing an effort at the MGH to develop a “center of excellence” for the care of transgender patients and their loved ones.

“It’s really a holistic approach,” says Robyn. “It’s not just the transgender person we’d like to medically treat from pediatrics through geriatrics. It’s also about offering care and support services to partners and families, patient navigators for issues like name changes, research and so much more.”

On Nov. 30, Robyn shared some of her ideas with MGHers – including an audience of Cardiology staff members and Human Resources representatives – during a presentation and question-and-answer session in the O’Keeffe Auditorium.

Inspired by a similar transgender care model at Penn Medicine, Robyn says she has developed a proposal that now has the backing of several MGH departments – including Cardiology.

“Wrene’s talk was educational and moving. I can only imagine how difficult this journey has been for her and I deeply appreciate her courage in sharing her story,” says Tony Rosenzweig, MD, chief of the MGH Cardiology Division. “Learning from her experiences will help us deliver better, more compassionate and sensitive care to all our patients.”

The proposal comes amid other recent changes at the MGH and organizations across Partners HealthCare aimed at reducing health disparities facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations. An addition to Partners eCare includes three questions to capture sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) information as a voluntary part of a clinical visit.

Embedded within the social history portion of Epic, the section asks:

  • --What is the patient’s sexual orientation?
  • --What was the patient’s assigned sex at birth?
  • --What is the patient’s gender identity now?

The questions now appear in all clinical visits for patients ages 10 and older.

While Robyn says she considers this to be progress, she says she also would like to see better education for staff hospitalwide and the SOGI information recorded at the start of a visit, when the medical record is first pulled up.  “That’s the time when most missteps are made,” she says. “Targeted questions on a person’s preferred pronouns and reassurance that the MGH is an inclusive institution can help mitigate the trauma so many of us feel when visiting a doctor or hospital.”

Robyn describes her outlook as “cautiously optimistic” and says she hopes her proposal will bring all measures on transgender care under one umbrella. “Ultimately, I’d like to create a resource that anyone at the MGH can call upon 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” 

Read more articles from the 12/09/16 Hotline issue.