Dr. Kimberly A. Gudzune, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and colleagues said the study involved 39 primary care doctors and 208 of their patients.
The study, published online in the journal Obesity, found patient weight played no role in the quantity of physicians' medical questions, medical advice, counseling, or treatment regimen discussions, but when it came to things like showing empathy, concern and understanding, the doctors were significantly more likely to express those behaviors in interactions with patients of normal weight.
Obese patients may be particularly vulnerable to poorer physician-patient communications, Gudzune said, because studies show that physicians may hold negative attitudes toward these patients. Some physicians have less respect for their obese patients, which might come across during patient encounters, the researchers said.
Bonding and empathy are essential to the patient-physician relationship.
"I hear from patients all the time about how they resent feeling judged negatively because of their weight," Gudzune said. "Yes, doctors need to be medical advisors, but they also have the opportunity to be advocates to support their patients through changes in their lives."