Medical technology fails to cope with obese patients

Researchers in the U.S. say that more and more Americans are missing out when it comes to receiving full medical care because they are too obese to fit into scanners or their fat is too dense for X-rays or sound waves to penetrate.

Radiologists at Massachusetts General Hospital suggest that with a growing population of overweight people, the problem is getting worse.

The researchers assessed all radiology examinations carried out at the hospital between 1989 and 2003 in order to determine the effects of obesity on imaging quality and diagnosis.

They looked in particular for incomplete exams that carried the label "limited by body habitus," meaning limited in quality due to the patient size.

Incomplete examinations related to obesity can lead to serious consequences for the patient, as in the case of misdiagnosis or failure to be able to assign a diagnosis at all.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services an estimated 66 percent of adults in the United States are overweight, obese or morbidly obese, and more than 12.5 million children and adolescents are overweight.

Hospitals are struggling to cope and now require larger wheelchairs and beds while standard operating tables and imaging equipment are not suitable for obese patients.

Dr. Raul Uppot a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital believes that the prevailing lifestyle in the United States and other industrialized nations that facilitates a poor diet and lack of exercise has led to our current obesity crisis.

He says imprecise images caused by obesity have doubled over the past 15 years, and ultrasound images are affected the most.

Dr. Uppot says in the short term, the medical community must accommodate such patients by investing in technology to help them, but in the long term, the nation must make cultural shifts that promote more exercise and a healthier diet.

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