The obesity epidemic that has been building for the last several decades doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. A report published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that more than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese. Being sensitive to the needs of overweight and obese individuals and accommodating them in your practice is essential to providing quality care and reducing the risk of alienating this patient population. Here are some steps you can take that will make larger patients feel comfortable in your office.
Proper seating. Imagine being quite overweight and walking into a doctor’s office only to find chairs in the reception area that are narrow, have arms, and that are placed very close together. Now imagine being that person entering the same space and seeing those same chairs, but also seeing a couple of sturdy loveseats or larger chairs that don’t have arms. What a relief. Take a look at your waiting area and the chairs in exam rooms. Will they accommodate a person of 300 pounds or more? If not, put “shop for furniture” near the top of your to-do list.
Privacy. A woman who is a size six or a man who still wears the same size pants he wore in high school might not object to being weighed in an open area such as a central work station. A heavy individual, however, may be very uncomfortable stepping on the scales in view of others, even if the medical assistant or nurse taking the weight is discrete. (Naturally, you’d never say “Mr. Jones, you’re up ten pounds from your last visit” no matter the person’s size.) Your office scale should be positioned so that all patients have privacy. It doesn’t need to be in a separate room, nor do you need to have scales in each exam room. You can create adequate privacy with a curtain or an attractive folding room divider.
Functional bathrooms. Not all, but many patients visit the bathroom during the course of an office visit. Chances are good that at least one of your bathrooms already meets ADA standards. Your obese patients may be more comfortable using that bathroom with its grab bars and higher toilets, so direct them there when the need arises.
Exam room equipment and supplies. If possible, have one exam room equipped with large blood pressure cuffs, extra-large patient gowns and drape sheets to ensure patient privacy and dignity.
Staff sensitivity. Perhaps the most important thing you can do in your office to make larger patients feel comfortable is being sensitive to their situation and needs. Set aside some time at an upcoming staff meeting to go over the points made in this post and discuss the need for everyone in the office to be non-judgmental, discrete and sensitive with larger patients.