Should Providers Refuse to Treat Obese Patients?

Most of us treat a large (no pun intended) number of obese patients.  After all, obesity breeds high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease leading patients to seek medical treatment from physicians and nurse practitioners alike.  One physician in Massachusetts, however has banned obese individuals from her practice telling patients she will not treat people weighing over 200 pounds.

Ida Davidson was turned away by her physician this year.  Her physician, Dr. Helen M. Carter, informed her that she was no longer treating patients weighing over 200 pounds.  Outraged, Ida went to the press sparking a national controversy over the issue.  Some think this should be illegal, others rant that it is simply unethical while many cry out 'discrimination' (typical).  The American Medical Association supports the decision of Dr. Helen Carter stating that "doctors can exercise freedom in choosing with whom to enter into a patient-physician relationship".  Once again, we are left with an awkward intersection between medicine as a buisness and a public service, the conflict between healthcare as a right vs. a privilege.

This is not discrimination.  Americans are much too easily offended.  Dr. Carter is simply choosing her own business model; defining her personal scope of practice.  She began screening out overweight patients after several of her staff were injured while dealing with obese patients.  I don't blame her- workman's comp insurance is expensive, especially if you have multiple claims on your record.  This was simply a choice made based on safety and finances, not based on a hatred for the hefty.  Other medical practices have made similar choices in the past.  Several OB-GYN's in Florida have also stopped treating obese patients stating "People don't realize the risk we are taking by taking care of these 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".  I can think of a few other reasons why GYN's wouldn't want to treat overweight patients.  I will leave these to your imagination.  

Dr. Lucy Hornstein, who blogs at Musings of a Dinosaur, points out that women's health providers refuse to treat 50% of the population and pediatricians are not condemned for transferring out patients over the age of 18 or 21; no one is accusing them of discrimination.  Some practices and providers are simply better equip to deal with different types of patients.  

Becoming a healthcare professional does not mean you should lose your autonomy.  As an independent healthcare provider, you are entitled to the freedoms of owning your own business.  Narrowing your patient population by turning away certain patient populations is your choice.  Your paycheck may not be as 'fat' if you limit your patient pool but it is your right.