By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.
Despite the emphasis on patient-centered care, there is a gap in how people with obesity are treated.
Think about the last time you had a doctor’s visit or hospital stay – how were your treated? The current standard for top healthcare is a “patient-centered care” approach. This means doctors and hospitals are evaluated on how well they treat the full needs of patients during their interactions, both in and out of the office. However, despite the emphasis on patient-centered care, there is a gap in how people with obesity are treated.
Bias in Healthcare
Hopefully you have a good relationship with your doctors and have experienced only the highest level of care. Unfortunately, not everyone has, and bias is pervasive within and outside the medical community. People with obesity have been stigmatized for decades and while unkind behaviors can be hurtful in the workplace or when we’re out in public, they can be downright dangerous in the healthcare environment.
A recent study found that medical students were significantly biased toward people who were overweight or had obesity, as well as those in the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, bias does not seem to improve with experience. More than half of physicians surveyed admitted they had less respect for patients with obesity. This affects communication and trust between doctors and patients, and misguided beliefs can lead to a lower quality of care, which can result in worse outcomes.
This has a direct effect on patients’ willingness to seek medical treatment. They often put off or cancel appointments because they are uncomfortable with the thought of being weighed and the embarrassment they feel based on the reactions they get. This can cause serious issues to go untreated, and affect both physical and mental health.
Take Matters Into Your Own Hands
Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel you are being treated differently because of your weight. This includes someone making inappropriate comments to minimizing your health condition or automatically assuming it has to do with weight. Everyone deserves medical attention that is free from judgement and bias!
Understandably, this can be very challenging, especially for those who are introverted or are tired of defending themselves against discrimination. Many of us were raised to hold the medical community with the highest respect because of their advanced knowledge, and those who deserve it should be. However, being a doctor or nurse means dealing with people – all people! They, of all people, should base their views on scientific evidence, and that evidence clearly demonstrates that there are range of issues that contribute to obesity, many of which are beyond the control of the patient.
On a positive note, several states recognize that bias is an issue and are taking action. Michigan will mandate implicit bias training starting in June, 2022. California requires hospitals and birthing facilities to provide bias programming for all perinatal health care providers and all new nursing graduates. This is encouraging, and hopefully will create greater awareness to allow more equitable and compassionate treatment for all patients.
About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.