Living as an overweight adult in Pennsylvania or elsewhere in the United States isn’t easy. Our culture tends to look at fat as a moral issue, rather than a health issue. People think of overweight adults as weak-willed or compulsive eaters, instead of seeing them as unique people.
Obesity can stem from a number of other medical issues, from genetic proclivities to carry more fat to issues with the thyroid or metabolism in the patient. Unfortunately, many people will judge someone based solely on their appearance and weight, and it can impact everything from educational opportunities to career trajectory.
That form of discrimination extends into the medical field. People who are significantly overweight or obese will face discrimination and dismissal by medical professionals for a wide range of conditions. This can leave overweight adults at increased risk of failure to diagnose and misdiagnosis when their lives are at stake.
When an overweight patient comes in complaining of new symptoms, many doctors will quickly find a way to relate those symptoms to the patient’s weight. Anything from hip and knee problems to headaches or nausea may get overlooked by a physician as a consequence of excess body fat or poor lifestyle choices.
Most doctors will work under the assumption that changes to diet and eating habits will reduce those symptoms, even when they are actually indicative of a very serious medical condition. Overweight patients may present serious issues to their doctor, only to be told to change to eat less and exercise more. Instead of diagnostic testing, overweight patients often get the brush-off from their doctor.
Tragically, overweight patients who report serious symptoms and get dismissed by their doctors could end up paying the price for that discrimination themselves. While it is possible to seek a second opinion or to eventually convince a physician of the severity of symptoms, the lost time in between appointments could be critical for that patient.
Progressive conditions, such as cancer, will worsen substantially in the weeks or months between visits to a doctor. If the doctor had ordered adequate testing and performed proper physical examinations related to the symptoms, a more timely diagnosis may have been possible.
In these situations, the patient or their surviving family members may have the right to hold that doctor accountable for their oversight and the discrimination that contributed to it. Medical malpractice claims related to failure to diagnose a patient or inaccurate diagnosis could help a family recover some financial costs associated with a misdiagnosis or the loss of a loved one because that person did not receive adequate care.