Published: Thu, May 18, 2017
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

Patients may fare worse when treated by older doctors

Patients may fare worse when treated by older doctors

According to a new study, patients treated by older hospital-based doctors-known as hospitalists-are somewhat more likely to die than those treated by younger physicians.

Their observational study of 737,537 USA hospital patients and the 18,854 doctors who treated them has found that those seen by a doctor over 60 have a higher chance of dying within the next 30 days than if they are treated by a doctor under 40.

Jena: Two reasons. First, we are broadly interested in understanding how care provided by individual physicians influences patient outcomes, and the particular understanding of how individual physician characteristics such as sex, where the physician trained, and their age relate to patient outcomes and cost of care. With doctors aged 40 to 49, mortality rates inched up to 11.1 percent, then to 11.3 percent with doctors 50 to 59, and 12.1 percent with doctors aged 60 or above.

There was an exception: for older doctors who were treating high volumes of patients, age did not translate to higher mortality in patients, according to the study published in The BMJ. He reiterated the fact that older doctors who treated high volumes of patients didn't have a higher patient mortality rates. This suggests that "high volumes could be "protective" of clinical skills", they concluded.

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The researchers stress their results are purely observational and no causal relationship between doctor age and patient relationship can be inferred.

A new study looks at older and younger doctors' patient mortality rates. In December 2016, he led research that found patients treated by female physicians were four percent less likely to die than those treated by men. The share of physicians aged 55 or over is within the range of 40-46 percent in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Latvia, Estonia and France, peaking at 52 percent in Italy.

"And our findings suggest that the impact of newer technology is evolving over time, and keeping up with that kind of technology is larger than the impact of experience that the older doctors are accumulating over time". Moreover, while the age-related mortality trend was significant overall, it ceased to assert itself when researchers sorted doctors by caseloads. Additionally, the analysis focused on one subspecialty-hospitalists-and the findings may not apply to other specialists.

Professor Anupam Jena, the co-author, explained, "Older physicians bring invaluable richness of knowledge and depth of experience, yet their clinical skills may begin to lag behind over time".

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The authors suggest there may be a need for continuing education throughout doctors' working lives. The study found, however, that doctors who are newer to their careers and have undergone more recent training make safer decisions for their patients.

All the more reason that "patients should be more-informed consumers in selecting a hospital", Aiken advised.

The study results could come as a surprise given that older physicians typically have more years of experience.

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