Aging physicians possible cause for concern

An article in the New York Times explores the problem of aging physicians and the potential problems that can arise. While commercial airline pilots are required to retire at age 65 and must undergo physical mental assessments every 6 months starting at age 40, no such safeguards are in place to protect patients from elderly physicians who might be mentally or physically deficient. With the increasing age of physicians who are practicing medicine, concerns are being raised over their ability to practice safely.

stethoscopeIn the United States, one-third of physicians are over the age of 65 and that number is on the rise. As the baby boomers approach retirement, many are hesitant to retire because of financial obligations. Just like the rest of the population, doctors aren’t exempt from Parkinson’s, dementia, stroke or other conditions associated with old age. While many doctors maintain their mental acuity and their skills well into their golden years, experts fear that their are too few safeguards in place to protect patients from incompetent doctors.

A call has been raised for regular cognitive and physical screenings to be required of doctors once they reach the age of 65 or 70. Some hospitals have already instituted such requirements but there is great opposition among most. Opponents state that other factors such as substance abuse and mental illness are far more common factors in physicians who perform poorly. In addition, they say that it would be difficult to come up with a single exam to accurately assess the performance of physicians from different specialities.

Advocates state that screening physicians would be a compassionate alternative as opposed to waiting until something bad happens and the physician having his license revoked. Preventive screening would help identify areas where a physician needed help. The doctor’s patient load could be reduced and partners in the practice could assist by monitoring the doctor’s work.*

Elise Ervin
Staff Writer

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