Monday, May 23, 2011

Overweight Women Denied By Ob-Gyns

I just saw this video and I think it brings up an interesting dilemma:

From the article:
In a nation with 93 million obese people, a few ob-gyn doctors in South Florida now refuse to see otherwise healthy women solely because they are overweight.

Fifteen obstetrics-gynecology practices out of 105 polled by the Sun Sentinel said they have set weight cut-offs for new patients starting at 200 pounds or based on measures of obesity — and turn down women who are heavier.

Some of the doctors said the main reason was their exam tables or other equipment can't handle people over a certain weight. But at least six said they were trying to avoid obese patients because they have a higher risk of complications.

"People don't realize the risk we're taking by taking care of these patients," said Dr. Albert Triana, whose two-physician practice in South Miami declines patients classified as obese. "There's more risk of something going wrong and more risk of getting sued. Everything is more complicated with an obese patient in GYN surgeries and in [pregnancies]."
The article then goes on to remind people that doctors have the right to turn away patients for any reason (except for sex, race, or sexual orientation), that this is only taking place in South Florida where there are a lot of malpractice suits, and that a lot of physicians think this practice is wrong. So where does this leave us? For me, there's a few problems I have with turning people away because of their weight:

1. This policy doesn't consider health. Not that I think health should be a reason why someone is allowed to be treated, but 200 pounds is a bit arbitrary. What if the woman is tall or an athlete?

2. The excuse about the equipment table is ridiculously insulting and undermines these doctors claims. Excluding that, one physician does mention that ultrasounds are more difficult when a patient is overweight in the article though. Personally, I think this is a completely valid concern. Does this mean patients should be turned away? No. Instead of turning patients away for the medical industry's failure, new and more reliable means of treating overweight patients should be implemented.

3. These doctors have every right to turn people away. As long as the doctor is providing the patient with a list of fat-friendly doctors, then I can't get too worked up about this. Because at the end of the day, these are the very doctors overweight people try to avoid.

4. My biggest concern about this story is the way it further stigmatizes being overweight. We tell people they need to lose weight and be healthy, but we also make it difficult by mocking overweight people when they exercise and shaming them when they go to the doctors. Excluding "obese" people from health insurance or refusing to treat them does not solve any problems. It's just intellectual laziness.

5. This sort of thing smacks of condescending judgement calls. There's often a moral side of being overweight that goes unnoticed. The real question isn't if these doctors should or shouldn't see overweight patients. Not at the heart of it. The question is whether or not being obese makes a person less worthy of care. That's what's really at stake when these conversations come up. If we decided that obesity is a choice and people should suffer for that choice, then where does it stop? Pregnancy is a choice that has a lot of risks. So is driving. Do these people deserve treatment? I'm not saying there are no reasons to be concerned about being overweight, but there seems to be a bit of obesity hysteria that I just can't get into.

And isn't visiting the ob-gyn annoying enough?


  1. Random fact: When I was 15 or 16 I had to have a medical examination and my doctor told me I should lose weight. I was 5'8" and between 150-160 pounds (plus I've always had huge boobs). My point is some doctors are assholes.

  2. Medical equipment not being strong enough to hold overweight and obese patients is horse shit. Fat making sonograms more difficult is true. However, not everyone who goes to the doctor and is fat will ask for or need an ultrasound, so turning a patient away over that is horse shit.

    200 lbs seems like such a low weight to set the bar at too. It bothers me that doctors, pharmacists and healers can just refuse to treat people and give them what they need.

  3. "It bothers me that doctors, pharmacists and healers can just refuse to treat people and give them what they need." This is exactly how I felt. The only plus side is this is in a place where there should be plenty of access to different doctors and seeing an ob-gyn isn't life threatening. If this was happening in a small town or hospitals then it'd be much worse. Still pretty shitty though.

  4. 200 pounds is small for me !

    I don't know a thing about any ob/gyn equipment. But, a lot of males are way over 200 pounds and not even close to being obese. Do they make equipment for us fellas? Isn't an exam table an exam table?

    With my last work physical, the dr told me I was fat and I should shed a few pounds. I asked if my blood pressure was high? No. Was my pulse rate high? No. Did I show any signs of sickness or illness (other than being 'fat')? No.
    Well, I don't see the huge problem then !

  5. "[T]his is only taking place in South Florida where there are a lot of malpractice suits..."

    Maybe there's a reason these doctor's are having so many malpractice suits. And I don't think it has anything to do with the patients they are seeing. I once spoke with a friend from Canada. He very patiently explained to me that physicians from the US aren't able to go up to Canada and practice until they've had at least one additional year of training and residency. That spoke volumes to me.

  6. mac: I've never understood that. I guess it's the same as smoking though. Not all smokers are unhealthy, but the potential risk is high enough that people have to always bring it up. Potential danger isn't a very good measurement though.

    anotherdayanotherface: That's very interesting! I'd never heard that before.

  7. At harrisobgyn OB/GYN South Florida, we provide advanced medical technology in a friendly environment where you will feel welcome and unrushed.


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