Massachusetts Doctor Denies Overweight Patients

If you weigh more than 200 pounds, seek treatment elsewhere.

overweightPhoto via Thinkstock


A Massachusetts doctor is under scrutiny for instituting a policy that turns away overweight patients, saying that her facilities aren’t equipped to handle the extra pounds. Dr. Helen Carter, who has been a primary care physician for two decades and whose private practice is in Worchester, says she made the decision to limit her practice to patients under 200 pounds because her staff is at risk for personal injury, telling WBUR’s CommonHealth blog that “I had no other choice. It’s self-preservation.”

Carter explained that one of her colleagues suffered an injury pulling out the exam table foot-rest for a 248-pound patient, leaving the physician out of commission for 12 weeks and in need of physical therapy. The physician is still recovering, and remains unable to provide pap smears to patients because she can’t bend over to do the procedure. The cost of an electric exam table could range from $4,000 to $7,000, which is far more than Carter says she can afford.

Carter argues that there are other clinics in the region that can better care for overweight patients. And she’s within her rights to make that call, as the American Medical Association’s Medical Code of Ethics says its permissible for doctors to refuse care:

“A physician shall, in the provision of appropriate patient care, except in emergencies, be free to choose whom to serve, with whom to associate, and the environment in which to provide medical care.”

Still, it’s a frustrating scenario. America is currently experiencing a shortage of primary care physicians, and a recent survey of the physicians found that 26 percent are experiencing financial hardship in their practices. Yet having a relationship with your physician remains one of the surest ways to work toward better health, so getting turned away when you’re obese isn’t likely going to help matters. But maybe it’s enough of a wake-up call to make some decisions about weight loss. As for Carter? She tells CommonHealth “I’m paying for other people’s choices.”