Study: Docs show less concern, empathy for obese patients

When it comes to biomedical communications--history taking, health education and lifestyle discussions--physicians treat all of their patients the same, a recent study from Johns Hopkins Medicine found. However, audiotaped encounters between 39 primary care doctors and 208 of their patients revealed a major difference in the amount of empathy physicians provided for overweight and obese patients compared to their normal-weight counterparts, researchers wrote in the current issue of the journal Obesity.

Kimberly Gudzune, M.D., an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and colleagues found that physicians expressed concern, reassurance and legitimation of patients' feelings far less often with heavier patients. As a result, doctors were 35 percent less likely to have an emotional rapport with their overweight patients and 31 percent less likely to connect with obese patients, noted MedPage Today.

The consequences of this disparity, according to researchers, is that patients who don't have as strong of a bond with their physicians are less likely to comply with those doctors' medical advice.

"I hear from patients all the time about how they resent feeling judged negatively because of their weight," Gudzine said in a statement. "Yes, doctors need to be medical advisors, but they also have the opportunity to be advocates to support their patients through changes in their lives."

To fulfill this role better for all of their patients, physicians should "be mindful of any negative attitudes, make an effort to bond and then spend time with overweight and obese patients discussing psychosocial and lifestyle issues," Gudzine said.

To learn more:
- read the announcement from Johns Hopkins Medicine
- see the story from Medpage Today
- check out the abstract from Obesity