Turned Away

Some OB-GYNs in Florida are refusing to treat obese women due to both the risks of treating such patients and the fact that their equipment isn't made for larger people.

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Women need gynecological care, but a certain class of women in South Florida is finding it harder to come by. Some OB-GYNs in Florida are refusing to take on obese women as new patients. Why? According to the OB-GYNs, some of the exam equipment just isn't made for people of a larger size. But that's not all. The risks of treating someone who is obese -- both medically and in terms of lawsuits -- is much greater.

The Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Florida reports that 15 OB-GYNs out of 105 polled said that they won't take new patients who are over 200 pounds.

Understanding the motives

Though it may sound harsh for doctors to turn away potential patients because of their weight, there is more to the issue. As some doctors told the Sun-Sentinel, obesity transforms a normal pregnancy into a complicated one and not all doctors are experts in the specific risks. "There are a host of issues regarding morbidly obese patients that make it difficult or impossible to provide adequate care," explains J. Deane Waldman, M.D., MBA, Professor of Pediatrics, Pathology & Decision Science at University of New Mexico.

Waldman says that those who are obese "by their choice of body habits, are generally non-compliant. Morbidly obese patients have higher risks for virtually any procedure. Even though the doctor warns them of higher risks and lower chances of success, when (not if) bad outcomes occur, the doctor gets sued."

Treating obese patients

Despite the risks, many doctors all over the country still choose to treat obese patients. For those doctors, the risk are just part of their business. "I'm an OB/GYN at Tufts in Boston and I take care of obese patients (and others). I think it's an obligation, although obesity does complicate pregnancy in lots of ways," says Adam Wolfberg, M.D., MPH.

Registered dietitian Christen Cooper of Cooper Nutrition also points out that refusing to treat obese patients misses the mark. "There is an epidemic of obesity in this country and we cant leave the two-thirds of Americans that can currently be classified as overweight or obese untreated and sick," says Cooper.

The need for medical care is paramount. "Exclusion from good care or medical 'punishment' for being overweight strikes me not only as against most medical ethics, but bad business as well, given the reality of the nations numbers," says Cooper.

And ultimately, with the obesity epidemic, the future of medical care needs two things, says Cooper: To better educate people about how important it is to be a healthy weight and medical equipment that is appropriate for bigger patients. "Neither of these necessary steps is mutually exclusive," Cooper says.

Read more about obesity and pregnancy

Obesity and weight loss during pregnancy
Obesity before pregnancy linked to childhood weight problems
Obesity plus C-section creates a negative healthy cycle

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