There is already evidence that younger and inexperienced physicians can make mistakes due to distractions but now there evidence that suggests that older doctors who have poor health may also pose risks to patients. Since we live in an aging population the issue of aging physicians is an issue nationwide. Additionally, physicians do not have a mandatory retirement age or regular health screenings as people in other professions, such as pilots. Due to this patient safety experts and hospital administrators are trying to find ways to ensure that older physicians are still competent to treat patients.
There are a significant number of older physicians in the United States. Of the nation’s one million physicians, about forty-two percent are aged over fifty-five and about twenty-one percent are over sixty-five. These percentages have increased significantly since 2006. Physicians are people too and this makes them affected by aging just as much as the rest of the population. It has been estimated that about 8,000 practicing physicians are suffering from dementia. Additionally, about one-third of doctors do not have a personal physician to look out for their deteriorating health or signs of oncoming dementia. This is concerning since there are not any formal evaluations required to ensure that physicians are still competent to practice.
Older physicians could forget necessary treatment or forget about their patients. They may not even be able to diagnose patients. They are also at greater risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack. Should a physician suffer a heart attack or stroke this may endanger the patients they are operating on or caring for in the emergency room. These impairments could leave hospitals open to medical malpractice liability should a patient be injured or die.
A few hospitals are trying to impose regulations on aging physicians to be sure that they are still competent to treat patients. This is a step in the right direction since the onset of dementia can be gradual and many symptoms are not noticed until it is too late. Often times there is not any recognition of the physician’s inability to practice until a patient is injured or dies.
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