Are physicians biased against heavy patients? Does it harm their care?

339-CloseupWeighBeamHuman failings vex doctors, too, and their biases against the overweight, especially women, may be detrimental to quality of  care. White practitioners also may benefit from racial bias, earning significantly more than their colleagues of color.

Stat, the online health news site, delves into the less discussed issue of physicians’ prejudice against patients who are heavy, if not obese, resulting, as one clinician says, in “inadequate health care, and preventative advice, and counseling, and support, and treatment—because the focus is on weight instead of managing risk factors.”

Doctors, like patients themselves, may be perplexed and frustrated that some patients carry lots of pounds and can’t seem to shed them, adding to an array of proven health issues, including heart, lung, liver, and kidney problems, as well as diseases like diabetes and cancer.

They may work like crazy to overcome biases, but doctors still may think that fat patients are lazier, stupider, and worth less than thin ones.

Weight bias poses big problems for women, who are becoming obese at problematic rates and who already struggle with gender-equitable care, the experts say.

The latest research published in the respected, peer reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), shows that American men and women, who had grown heavier at the same rates, suddenly are diverging─with females surging ahead in pounds; 40% of women now meet clinical critieria to be deemed obese. This bodes poorly for their care, especially in key areas like heart disease, if doctors can’t see beyond their weight biases when treating increasingly heavy women.

Race bias in MD pay

Meantime, it can’t help but be disheartening to black doctors to learn that their white colleagues earn as much as 35 percent more, Stat reports, noting this is true, “even after accounting for factors such as field of medical specialty, experience, and hours worked.”

A study published in the peer-reviewed, respected British Medical Journal reports that:

White male physicians had an adjusted median income of $253,000 a year, compared to $188,000 a year for their black male peers. White female doctors earned about $163,000. Black female physicians were at the bottom, with an adjusted median annual income of about $153,000.

Pay bias may play a corrosive role in medicine, keeping blacks out of the profession as a whole and out of certain specialties, Stat says. This reduces, overall, the best and brightest that health care needs.

It also can mean a lack of diversity in medical areas where it could be critical to patients seeking caregivers who fully understand shared life experiences. I’ve written before about experts questioning whether doctor bias hinders black patients’ receipt of adequate pain care.

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