One of the greatest barriers to accessing care for people with overweight or obesity are patients’ feelings of being judged by others because of excess weight.
As I educate health care professionals about caring for patients with the disease of obesity, I address this by making sure that clinicians are firstly aware of their own implicit biases toward people with obesity, and ensure that communication is void of any explicit biased language.
Health care professionals have a big role to play to address weight bias and stigma in their own practices.
Here are some ways to do so:
1-Access Available Resources to Address Weight Bias with Staff
We all come to our jobs with our own biases so addressing this head-on can help support a more empathetic and supportive environment.
Educating all professional and support staff who interact with patients on weight bias and the disease of obesity is a good place to start.
Just click on “informational handouts and resources” for free, downloadable tools to help improve provider-patient communication and increase awareness of personal biases that can influence care.
Patients who have been targets of weight bias can access helpful tools also.
2- Create an Accessible and Comfortable Environment for Patients
This starts in the waiting area. Having wide and sturdy armless chairs is preferred.
In the exam room, keeping large exam gowns and large blood pressure cuffs easily accessible is also helpful.
It’s important to house the weight scale in a private area and inform staff to ask permission regarding whether the patient wants to be weighed or not.
Encourage staff to be empathetic regarding the weighing process by recording weight without comments, unless patient requests the information.
3-Use Shared Decision Making when Counseling Patients
Approaching the topic of body weight with patients is a sensitive issue.
It’s not appropriate to assume that the patient wants to or is ready to discuss their weight.
That’s why asking permission to discuss a patient’s weight and health and getting patient buy-in is crucial to devising a good treatment plan.
This resource gives providers specific tips for discussing weight without blaming patients and even suggests sample questions providers can ask patients using motivational interviewing, such as “What steps do you feel ready to take to improve your health?” or “How is your current weight affecting your life right now?”
Being proactive in your approach to address and eliminate weight bias in your practice will help improve care to the millions of people affected by the disease of obesity.
Creating weight management practices as judgement-free zones will encourage more patients with obesity to access the exciting, new and improved available treatments.
Robert Kushner, MD