Time To Start Worrying About Aging Physicians

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, with the growing costs of healthcare, patient deaths due to hospital errors, doctors who are more interested in inflating their checking accounts than in responsibly treating their patients, and fewer physicians to treat our aging population, we now have an aging population of physicians that pose a danger to our lives.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Laurie Tarkan reported that one-third of our nation’s physicians are over 65 and that proportion is expected to rise. Do you realize that no safe guards in place to test the skills of aging doctors? I’m talking about motor skills and mental sharpness. Airline pilots must retire at 65  and must undergo physical and mental exams every six months starting at the age of 40. Yet, physicians who make life and death decisions every day do not have such requirements. Doctors are like the rest of us; they get old, their skills and sharpness of mind sometimes diminish and they are at risk for dementia, Parkinsn’s disease, stroke and other diseases of aging. Wouldn’t you want assurances that your 70 year old doctor is still competent to perform that bypass surgery you need?

Experts are calling for regular cognitive and  physical screening once doctors reach 65 or 70. Currently, only 5 to 10% of hospitals around the country have begun to address the issue of aging physicians. As I expected given the egos involved, such policies have met resistance from rank and file physicians.

In the meantime, there are some things that you can control as a patient. If you’re having a complicated procedure done, like a coronary artery bypass or kidney transplant, stick to surgeons under the age of 60. Studies have shown that surgeons over 60 have a higher mortality rate than younger docs. Take control, don’t become a statistic!


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