Weight Bias in Healthcare
When we’re sick, we go to the doctor. When we need medical assistance, we go to the doctor. When we’re concerned about our weight, we go to the doctor, but they won’t treat us – wait, what did I just say?
You read that correctly. At least that’s what happened to a Massachusetts woman who attempted to see a primary care physician (PCP). The woman, Ida Davidson, was denied care because of her weight. Dr. Carter, a Massachusetts PCP denied Ms. Davidson access to care because, her employees were injured while trying to care for patients affected by obesity.
As a healthcare professional myself, I cannot imagine denying a patient care because of their weight. With the overwhelming data present today illustrating obesity’s impact on health, how can we possibly turn away ANYONE wanting to address their weight. This example is one of the main reasons why individuals affected by obesity delay important routine health visits – the fear of stigmatization by their healthcare provider. Even more impactful is the fact that it was a PCP who discriminated against Ms. Davidson. We’re taught that the PCP is the “gatekeeper” so-to-speak when it comes to our health. Many insurance providers require you to see your PCP prior to seeing a specialist for any reason.
Hypothetically speaking, if a patient affected by obesity is denied care by a PCP, that patient may not realize that they’re at risk for serious obesity related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea and more. Why do you ask? Because the PCP would’ve begun the initial consult to help recognize these conditions, but in this case, that didn’t happen.
So, what’s next? Well, thankfully, there are many PCP’s in medical society. Although I haven’t personally spoken with Ms. Davidson, I would strongly encourage her to find another PCP who fully upholds the Physician’s Hippocratic Oath which states:
I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.
Recognizing that your weight is impacting your health is not always an easy task and for those that have taken that crucial first step, the PCP’s office should be a place of comfort, knowledge, treatment and understanding. I commend Ms. Davidson for taking a proactive approach with her health. It saddens me that Dr. Carter reacted the way she did. I can only hope that she re-evaluate her treatment plan for individuals affected by obesity – as more than 93 million Americans are battling this disease every day.
Pam Davis, RN, BSN, CBN, OAC Chairperson
For the full story on Ms. Davidson, click here.
Note: The OAC has sent a letter directly to Dr. Carter expressing our concerns and disappointment and offering her resources to educate herself and her staff on weight bias in healthcare. As of this blog post, the OAC has not received a response from Dr. Carter.