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Obese People Shop Around for Doctors More Often Than Others

Update Date: May 27, 2013 09:37 AM EDT

Numerous studies have analyzed the relationship between doctors and their patients and discovered that not all doctors treat their patients in the same way. A study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, found that doctors were generally nicer to thinner patients and less empathetic toward the heavier ones. Although this study did not find that the level of care differed, it suggested that the doctors' lack of concern could negatively affect heavier patients. Another study done by the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in NC concluded that the bias towards obesity is evident amongst medical students as well.

Based from these studies, researchers wanted to find if less empathetic doctors affected obese patients and their medical choices. The research team, also from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, reported that obese people tend to change doctors frequently because they struggle with finding one that they like.

"Patients often complain that their primary care doctor is too judgmental or harsh with them about their weight," Dr. Kimberly Gudzue said, reported by NPR. Gudzune is an internal medicine physician at Johns Hopkins and headed the study evaluating doctor and patient relationships depending on weight differences. After finding a difference in the rapport between doctors and skinny or heavy patients, Gudzune did another study to determine what the effects of these doctors' behaviors on obese people. Gudzune looked at over 20,000 medical records of people who were enrolled in a single health insurance plan. From this data, she was able to record how many times people switched doctors.

Gudzune found that overweight people tended to doctor-shop 23 percent more so than patients who were under the category of normal weight. 'Doctor shopping' is defined as switching doctors over five times within two years and could result in poor medical care. The researchers found that for obese patients, the rate of doctor shopping increased to 52 percent. Although the researchers could not pinpoint why overweight and obese people choose to change doctors so frequently, based from previous research, they believe that doctor shopping could be attributed to uncomfortable primary care visits. The researchers pointed out that certain medical equipment at primary care offices, such as blood pressure cuffs, tend to be too small for heavier people.

Since maintaining a good level of continuous medical care is important, the researchers hope that these findings could help doctors change their approach when treating heavier patients. The study was published in Obesity

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