A recent survey by the Florida Sun-Sentinel found that 15 of 105 OB/GYN practices in South Florida refuse to take on new patients who are overweight. Some practices limited new patients by weight (200lbs and heavier, for example) or by BMI score. Reasons cited included equipment that couldn’t handle the weight of obese or overweight patients, increased risk of birth complications, the high cost of malpractice insurance, and a fear that the patient would eventually have to be referred to a specialist anyway. “People don’t realize the risk we’re taking by taking care of these patients,” Dr. Albert Triana told the Sun-Sentinel. Triana’s firm declines obese patients. “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].”
There’s some truth in the doctors’ concerns. Rising obesity rates have been blamed for contributing to the US’s rising maternal mortality rate. Part of this could be because obese women are more likely to have a Caesarian section, which carries with it all the risks that would accompany another major operation such as infection and hemorrhage. In addition, medical malpractice insurance is very expensive, which is why more C-sections are performed in the first place: they avoid potential damage to the baby associated with vaginal birth that doctors could later be sued for. In fact, the C-section rate for some South Florida doctors is 70%, much higher than the US national average of around 30%.
That said, it’s a doctor’s duty to provide health care, regardless of the health of the individual. Some of the practices surveyed said that they wouldn’t take one patients who were overweight, even if they were healthy. Unfortunately, the practice of weight discrimination is legal, and doctors’ poor treatment of obese or overweight patients is not a new thing. One study from Temple University found that more than half of doctors found obese patients “ugly” and “noncompliant” and more than a third characterized them as “weak-willed” and “lazy.” The larger the patient, the more doctors disliked them. “Obesity lives in a politically correct free zone and is the last … prejudice openly accepted by society,” Dr. Joseph Madjan of Boulder, Colorado, told a local paper. Madjan should know: he was once overweight himself and was teased often for it… by his fellow doctors.