Are older doctors more dangerous than their younger colleagues?

Patients treated by older doctors have higher death rates than those cared for by younger physicians, new research has shown. The study, published by the BMJ, suggested fewer patients would die within 30 days of admission to US hospitals if treated by doctors under 40, instead of physicians aged 60 or over. However, researchers stressed the findings should be regarded as exploratory only and that further research was required.

Researchers, led by Yusuke Tsugawa at Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health in Boston, looked at 736,537 elderly Medicare patients from 2011 to 2014 under the care of 18,854 US hospital physicians. They analysed their records for 30-day mortality, readmissions and costs of care, and found – if the results are causal – that for every 77 patients treated by doctors over 60, one less patient would die within 30 days of admission if treated by a doctor under the age of 40.

The study found patients’ 30-day mortality rates were 10.8 per cent for physicians aged less than 40, 11.1 per cent for doctors aged between 40 and 49, 11.3 per cent for physicians aged between 50 and 59, and 12.1 per cent for doctors aged 60 or over.

However researchers found physicians with a high volume of patients broke the trend and did not have higher patient mortality rates, suggesting high volumes could be “protective” of clinical skills.

What are your views? Are older doctors more dangerous?

Comments (4) Add yours ↓
  1. Culley Carson Professor

    As an older (read mature) urologist, I think it is my responsibility to help younger urologists understand the profession and help them integrate into a system that I will soon leave. While I understand that many seasoned physicians feel threatened by the new physicians, they need to remember when they were new, finding their way and wishing for some mentoring from the established group.

    Medicine today is changing and burnout and less professional behavior is a concern in the US and UK. The resources of established and older physicians can help in both of these areas in an active mentoring of younger partners. This is not a battle, but is rather a partnership.

    June 14, 2017 Reply
  2. Mike Kirby Professor

    Likewise Culley, experience counts for a lot, and the data on high volume supports that.
    Perhaps older doctors take more risks??
    I would would to see more evidence before I believe this observational data, the lowest form of evidence!!.

    June 18, 2017 Reply
  3. Simon Brewster Urologist

    I share Mike’s scepticism regarding the study methodology, but also with his view that older doctors may take more risks. Are there not teams in the Medicare system whereby junior Residents are supported in their care delivery by senior Attendings? Are these more deadly low-volume older doctors working perhaps in isolation like the now vanishing single-handed GP in the UK? If that were the case this study would be a useful tool to push against this type of practice.

    June 21, 2017 Reply
  4. John Nash GP&Hospital Practitioner in Urology

    Whilst this is a hospital-based study, it is interesting to note the huge numbers of UK GP’s retiring before the age of 60yrs. Many of them do so because they are all too aware of their failing cognitive abilities-in combination with the increasing demands of an ageing patient population. Their replacement by younger well-trained GP’s is to be welcomed and will result in increased patient safety….. but I personally would not recommend General Practice as a career to anyone in my family unless there is a seismic change in GP working practice.

    I fully support Professor Carson’s views on mentoring younger colleagues- not only in General Practice, but also to help train up GP’s interested in Men’s Health as GPwSI working in Urology departments. I do not think hospital managers are aware of this important role for GP’s within Secondary Care Urology. GPwSI’s or Clinical Assistants can see and manage a large part of the routine work, thus freeing up his or her senior Consultant colleagues to see more difficult, complex cases. My battle cry to my hospital colleagues is therefore “Support Mentorship”!

    June 26, 2017 Reply

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