Fighting for obese patients' rights to quality health-care

Accessibility research fund to support social justice in health-care settings for persons with obesity

Communications - 16 November 2017

Though more health-care professionals and experts are speaking up for the bariatric patient population, patients with obesity are still experiencing stigma and delays in receiving care.

Thanks to the Stephanie Chipeur Accessibility Research Fund at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, occupational therapist and obesity expert Dr. Mary Forhan will further her research on investigating the barriers to access to health-care in bariatric populations.

"Patients with obesity who are admitted to hospital experience delays in receiving care due to weight bias and stigmatization from health-care practitioners, and are put in harm's way due to limited access to appropriately-sized equipment and lack of knowledge from health-care providers about how to best meet their needs," said Forhan, assistant professor, Department of Occupational Therapy. "The purpose of this study is to learn from patients with obesity what their experience and satisfaction with the care they receive is after strategies to improve the quality of care are implemented."

The fund is named in honour of Stephanie Chipeur who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2014 and was inspired by her own experiences during rehabilitation to advocate for social inclusion for those undergoing rehabilitation. Forhan was selected to receive the fund this year, which provides a one-time research grant between $15,000 and $25,000 to a faculty member to develop a research project that focuses on social justice as it relates to accessibility, visitability or universal design.

"Obesity is a chronic health condition that is experienced as a disability by some people due to injustices they have experienced, simply because they have a body size or shape that does not fit within society's definition of a healthy or normal body. People living with obesity are often blamed for it because of the myth that obesity is due to a lack of willpower and moral failure in controlling energy intake and expenditure," explained Forhan.

"Until recently, this population was neglected by rehabilitation, medical and legal experts. To have this research supported by the Stephanie Chipeur Accessibility Research Fund is an indication that hearing from persons living with obesity to improve access to quality health-care is valued and an important contribution to evidence-based practice and policy development," said Forhan.

Forhan and her team will use the funding to help fight the discrimination that people with obesity face in the health-care system, which can compromise the quality of care and the services that they receive.

The study aims to develop guidelines for care for patients with bariatric needs, to support health-care practitioners to become more knowledgeable about obesity and its impact on quality care, develop competencies in the areas of safe patient handling and work effectively and compassionately with patients with obesity.

"Patients will be interviewed throughout their stay in the hospital and asked to describe their experience from admission through to discharge planning," said Forhan.

The project is an extension of a pilot project Forhan and the Bariatric Care and Rehabilitation Research Group (BCRRG), situated within the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, has been working on with Alberta Health Services, funded in part by Alberta Innovates: Partnership for Research & Innovation in the Health System.