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Patients may fare worse when treated by older doctors

17 Mai 2017

They also point out that doctor age is only one potential variable governing patient health, and that considerable variation in treatment outcomes was found within each age range examined.

They discovered across a 30-day period that patients' mortality rate was 10.8 per cent for physicians aged less than 40, 11.1 per cent for physicians aged 40 to 49, 11.3 per cent for physicians aged 50 to 59, and 12.1 per cent for physicians aged 60 or over. "Our observation that physicians' age is inconsequential so long as they treat a high volume of patients supports that notion".

Nevertheless, they conclude that "within the same hospital, patients treated by older physicians had higher mortality than patients cared for by younger physicians, except those physicians treating high volumes of patient volumes".

Patients treated by older doctors are more likely to die than those treated by younger physicians, a new study suggests.

The results, which the researchers said were "modest yet clinically meaningful" in an announcement, are similar to the differences in death rates for patients with heart disease who are treated with the correct medications versus those given no medications.

Editorial: Physician age and patient outcomes, BMJ (2017). However, patient death rates crept up at a regular pace as physicians got older.

The findings might not carry over to non-Medicare patients, or patients cared for by surgeons and by other specialists.

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Whether quality of care differs between younger and older physicians remains largely unknown, so a team led by Yusuke Tsugawa at Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health in Boston, set out to investigate whether outcomes of patients who were admitted to hospital differ between those treated by younger and older physicians.

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

However, the researchers stress that their findings should be regarded as exploratory.

The authors suggest there may be a need for continuing education throughout doctors' working lives.

Hospital medicine is among the most rapidly evolving specialties within medicine, with dramatic changes in the training of recent cohorts of physicians who now work as hospitalists, including greater emphasis on multi-professional team based practice, adherence to clinical guidelines, training on patient handoffs, familiarity with shift work during residency training, and an improved hospital safety culture.

They analysed 30 day mortality, readmissions and costs of care for a random sample of 736,537 elderly Medicare patients (aged 65 or over) managed by 18,854 hospital physicians (average age 41) at USA acute care hospitals from 2011 to 2014.

Patients may fare worse when treated by older doctors