Tips for Communicating With Overweight and Obese Patients

Carlos Campos, MD, MPH, CDE
July 2014

Introduction: A chronic disease such as obesity is primarily managed by the patient who will make decisions on a daily basis that affect their health outcomes. To effectively self-manage their disease, overweight and obese patients must have the necessary knowledge, skills, and motivation to implement a treatment plan that should be developed in collaboration with their health care team. A 2013 survey of overweight patients and their physicians found that only half of these patients reported ever having discussed weight with their physicians. Yet, all physicians indicated they counsel their overweight and obese patients about diet and exercise. These findings, which are relatively unchanged from a 2008 survey, indicate a disconnect in the patient-provider relationship, and suggest an opportunity to improve patientprovider communication regarding excess weight.

The importance of good patient-provider communication cannot be overemphasized due to its significant impact on patient weight and attitudes related to weight management. Moreover, a study of 824 patients who completed a previsit and postvisit questionnaire pertaining to their physician’s consultation style showed that patients valued 3 elements of the office encounter: communication, partnership, and health promotion.

This article describes various communication techniques that can be implemented in the primary care setting to foster good patient-provider communication as part of a collaborative decision-making process. The goal is to improve patient self-management and motivation, and to achieve better health outcomes. Although patient-provider relationships in conjunction with their health system influence patient-centered communication, the empahsis in this article is on provider factors involving a patient’s weight management.