September 05, 2012 | | Comments 1
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Physician places weight limits on patients in the name of safety

Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared on the Patient Safety Monitor blog.

A physician in Massachusetts gained attention last week when she announced that she would no longer accept patients who weight over 200 pounds. According to Helen Carter, MD, two of her staff members have sustained injuries from treating obese patients. One suffered a neck strain when attempting to pull out an examination table foot rest while the 284-pound patient was lying on the table, and the other staff member herniated two lumbar spine disks while performing a physical examination. According to Dr. Carter, her exam tables are ill-equipped for heavy patients, and she cannot afford the estimated $7,000 electric exam table.

In an interview for CommonHealth, Dr. Carter stated that she is not dismissing any of her current patients who are obese, but instead is encouraging them to lose weight. She compared her policy to turn away new patients who are overweight to turning away people seeking treatment for addiction, since she is not an addiction medicine specialist. She recommends that obese patients instead seek treatment at facilities with equipment designed to safely handle patients’ extra weight and specific programs to assist with weight loss.

Dr. Carter’s policy has been met by mixed reviews. Some of the sources interviewed for the articles mentioned above see the policy as discrimination against obese patients, while others agree with the policy and note that obesity is contributing to rising healthcare costs and safety issues.

It’s a difficult argument from either side, however. Dr. Carter can justify her decision under the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Medical Code of Ethics, which states that physicians may choose whom to serve, and her argument for the safety of her staff and the lack of proper equipment is compelling. However, by refusing to treat patients she is arguably putting them at risk, and possibly violating another of the AMA’s principles: providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights.

Is Dr. Carter within her rights to refuse treatment for obese patients, or does this move beyond a safety issue to one of prejudice? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Entry Information

Filed Under: Hot topicspatient satisfaction

About the Author: Katrina Gravel is an editor for the Education division of HCPro.

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  1. Really. What kind of cheap equipment does she own? Most men weigh around 200lbs. Is she not seeing most men as patients? Did she buy all of her office equipment from Craigslist? Or the dollar store?

    This is a blatant act of financial discrimination. “Fat” people may have more medical problems, and therefore, more potential issues — and thereby, may be more prone to sue if something goes wrong.

    Dr. Helen Carter is not a doctor. She is trying to get as much money out of people while avoiding lawsuits. What will she do next, not see AIDs patients because their blood may infect her staff? What a load of crud. I would never ever go to a doctor with such obvious prejudices.

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