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Why a doctor’s attitude about weight can lead to missed diagnoses

On Behalf of | Apr 12, 2024 | Failure to Diagnose |

Sometimes, the failure to diagnose a serious medical condition or the misdiagnosis of one is caused by a doctor’s own preconceived ideas (some might say prejudices) that can affect their judgment. For example, around 40% of doctors admit to having negative feelings about “higher-weight” people.

These negative feelings are more prevalent (and doctors are often more upfront about them) with female patients than male ones. However, this “fatphobia,” as it’s sometimes called, can affect their diagnosis and treatment of patients regardless of their gender.

Barriers to access

Very large patients face some of the same logistical issues as disabled ones – with some medical facilities unable to accommodate them. They may lack everything from gowns and scales to blood pressure cuffs and scanning machines that are large enough for them.

Certainly, people who are overweight or obese by medical standards can develop have weight-related medical conditions. But they can also develop other conditions, just as anyone can. However, patients frequently report that when they tell their doctor about concerning symptoms, their doctors attribute them to their weight, with little or no effort made to discover other potential causes.

In some cases, diseases like certain kinds of cancers that would have been treatable if discovered in the early stages become fatal because of a failure to properly diagnose them. Sometimes, larger patients have had such negative experiences with medical professionals that they neglect to have regular screenings. It’s been found that higher-weight women are more likely to die from cervical and breast cancer than other women are, perhaps due in part to this phenomenon.

When can a doctor be held liable?

Certainly, a doctor isn’t liable for failure to diagnose if a patient doesn’t get recommended screenings or come in for check-ups or when something is bothering them. That’s true even if their attitude is why a patient stays away. They may incur liability, however, if they don’t do the same diagnostic tests and consider the same conditions for a higher-weight patient as they would for one who is carrying less weight.

The best way to determine whether a doctor’s failure to diagnose a serious condition that resulted in harm is malpractice is to get experienced legal guidance, as every case is unique.