Attention All Health Professionals and Consumers; Do You See Weight Bias in the Doctor’s Office?
Intentionally (or unintentionally), is your doctor’s office sending the message to higher weight people that they are not welcome; that there’s weight bias in the doctor’s office?
Since December, I have had this pain in the left side of my back that’s radiating down my left arm. Numerous tests and thousands of dollars later, heart and lung issues have been ruled out. Good to know, I’m remarkably healthy, except for this nagging pain. Advised that there might be something muscular-skeletal going on, last month I started seeing a Chiropractor, Dr. Maureen Boylan, DC.
Always wearing my “Health at Every Size” advocate’s hat, I pay close attention to my first impression of a doctor’s office, starting with the waiting room experience. On new patient intake forms, when asked to list “Occupation”, I write “Health at Every Size, Emotional Eating Coach”, with the hope that the doc will ask me to say more. Even if not asked directly, I do my best to engage the doctor in a brief conversation about “health at every size”. To be frank, I am typically disappointed in their lack of interest and/or lack of time to discuss anything but the health issue that brought me to their office.
But this time it was different! Dr. Boylan jumped at the opportunity to learn everything I was willing to share about how to best approach and care for her patients of higher weights. She actually asked for feedback about her office and about what words are best to use with people of size.
First thing I shared was what I observed in her waiting room; no chairs that would fit a large person. Within a week, she had a new chair in her waiting room, just like the one pictured here. (If interested, search online for Bariatric Chairs.)
I emailed her all sorts of reading material. She asked for more and suggested we schedule “tea” or a walk, to discuss, in more detail, so the conversation would not interfere with the appointment time allotted for my health care. She’s like a sponge..and has already referred patients to me for Coaching.
I wish more health care professionals would take just a minute or two to imagine their office experience through the eyes of their plus-size patients, and consider the following:
• Do your waiting room and exam rooms have even one chair that would be comfortable for a person in a larger body?
• Does your office staff automatically weigh-in every patient, on a scale in a public hallway, even if the person is coming in for an issue totally unrelated to weight, i.e., a wart removal?
• How do nurses respond when a patient says “no thank you” to being weighed? What’s the office culture? As a staff, has weight bias ever been addressed, through continuing education, sensitivity training, an opportunity to discuss their own biases on how their feelings about higher weight people might be impacting patient care?
• Do you stock gowns that fit heavier patients or are these people left feeling exposed and shamed?
• Do you have medical equipment that fits larger bodies, i.e. a blood pressure cuff that fits a large arm?
Anyone can become a “health at every size” advocate. Whether you are a health care professional or a health care consumer, get the conversation started.
I so look forward to the day when ALL health professionals and patients, alike, are speaking about health and well-being, for EVERY BODY!
Ellen Shuman is a pioneer in the field of binge eating disorder treatment; a Coach who specializes in helping people overcome binge eating, binge eating disorder, emotional eating, compulsive eating, and food addiction. She is the founder of A Weigh Out Life Coaching & Members’ Circle, Acoria Binge Eating Disorder Treatment (1993-present). She is a Past President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (2011/2012), and Co-Founder of the Academy for Eating Disorders Special Interest Group on “Health at Every Size”, firstname.lastname@example.org, 513-321-4242.