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Study: Older surgeons could be a risk to patients

As patients in Washington try to find competent medical help, the population of doctors across the country is getting older. Some are concerned that the doctors who are aging may be more prone to errors than they were in their younger years.

As New Zealand Doctor reports, the American Medical Association is suggesting that as doctors age, a required exam should be conducted to test their cognitive functions to ensure a doctor is still up to par. The AMA also believes that gathering feedback from peers on the competency of the aging doctor could help to prevent a declining doctor from making an irreversible error with a patient. While the AMA believes the testing should be done "from a certain age," the actual age to commence examination is not identified.

In fact, Reuters reports, many believe that selecting an age at which to begin the testing would be age discrimination, but this is not unheard of. In aviation, pilots go through similar testing beginning at age 40. They have a forced retirement age of 65. This is becoming increasingly important as the population of doctors in the United States has aged. In 2015, nearly a quarter of doctors were aged 65 years or older. Some note that with age comes experience, but at the same time "the surgeon with the greatest experience may be the one putting patients at the greatest risk.” 

Studies on risk factors for patients with older doctors have not been conclusive. Some have shown that cardiovascular surgery patients are more likely to die at the hands of an older surgeon, but others have found that younger surgeons are riskier. One study shows that doctors' cognition tests remain higher than the average, but the scores still decline with age.

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