We’ve had it ingrained into us how obese we are as a nation, as well as all of the health issues being overweight can cause. But now doctors are choosing to punish the unhealthy by refusing to treat them. Or dismissing their health concerns as being caused by their weight without looking deeper to confirm their diagnosis.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel conducted a survey of 105 obstetrics gynecology practices and found that fifteen of the practices have set obesity cutoffs for the patients they will deign to treat.
According to the Sun Sentinel article, the doctors have a variety of “reasons” for turning away patients. They don’t want to treat higher risk patients, because they might get sued if something goes wrong. They simply don’t have the expertise. They lack the equipment. It’s harder and more complicated to diagnose overweight patients. Perhaps these doctors should focus less on excuses and more on solutions.
The Floridian ob-gyns aren’t alone in their fat discrimination (which, incidentally, is not prohibited by law). Other doctors also deny overweight people medical care. Surgeons refuse to operate. Infertile couples are denied in-vitro fertilization. Organ transplants are withheld. And even when ob-gyns aren’t outright refusing to treat patients, they may be neglectful in their treatment of obese patients. A study conducted by the University of Connecticut of “more than 1,300 physicians found that 17 percent were reluctant to do pelvic exams on obese women and that 83 percent were hesitant if the patient herself seemed reluctant.”
Many doctors incorrectly slough off patients’ real medical problems as being the by-products of obesity. Harvard Medical School professor Jerome Groopman calls this a “classic diagnostic error.” He states that “[i]t’s called attribution, because your thinking is colored by a stereotype and you attribute the entire clinical picture to that stereotype. Because obesity can cause so many medical problems, it’s very easy to blame a variety of complaints, from knee pain to breathing troubles, on a patient’s weight. That’s why doctors—and patients—need to constantly ask, ‘What else could this be?’”
Such negative and negligent attitudes of doctors towards those perceived as overweight can prevent patients from getting the diagnosis and treatment they need. Patients are also more likely to feel uncomfortable and less inclined to go to the doctor. Going to the doctor can be unnerving and stressful enough as it is. If women are made to feel defensive and self conscious about their weight, they are likely to be less forthcoming with their doctors to the detriment of their physical and mental well-being.
Doctors are legally entitled to choose what patients they want to treat. The question is one of ethics. By taking the easy way out, doctors are serving only themselves and doing a disservice not only to the medical profession as a whole. We all have the basic right to medical care and we deserve better.