Health-Outcomes and Epidemiologic Research of Transgender Patients Requires Simple, Meaningful Diagnostic Codes: A Retrospective Review of California Emergency Department Visits

Author(s): Joshua Sterling, Aleksandra Golos, Sandeep Sandhu, Maurice M Garcia

Purpose: We assessed the frequency of emergency department (ED) visits by transgender individuals, examined whether these visits were related to gender transition healthcare, and identified longitudinal trends in relevant International Classification of Disease (ICD) codes.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of aggregated patient records using the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development database. ED visits from 2012-2021 that involved ICD- 9(2012 to Q3 2015) or ICD-10(Q4 2015 to 2021) codes commonly associated with transgender patients were identified, examining trends in ICD code usage.

Results: We identified 393 relevant ED visits (0.0037% of all visits) in 2012, compared to 2642 visits (0.021% of all visits) in 2021. This represents a 570% increase in ED visits by transgender individuals, despite only a 22% increase in ED visits overall. Gender identity disorders were the primary reason for seeking care in 0.76% of relevant visits in 2012, compared to 3.0% in 2019. The use of diagnosis codes for “transsexualism” decreased from 93% of visits in 2012 to 52% in 2021; the use of codes for “gender identity disorder” increased from 43% of visits in 2016 to 47% in 2021.

Conclusions: This is the first attempt to assess transgender healthcare needs using a non-LGBT-specific database, providing insights for clinical and policy decision-making. The significant increase in the usage of genderidentity disorder diagnosis codes suggests that the prevalence of gender dysphoria is severely under-estimated. Better documentation practices are needed to improve care and track health and epidemiologic outcomes for transgender patients.

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