The older the doctor, the higher the patient mortality rate, study finds

GETTYGender issue A previous study found female doctors provided better care

GETTYGender issue A previous study found female doctors provided better care

The patients of older hospital physicians die more often, new research suggests.

However, the new study took the severity of the patient's condition into account, and still found a higher chance of death with doctors aged 60 or above.

For physicians from 50 to 59 years old, the patients' 30-day mortality rate was 11.3%.

For doctors under 40 years old, the mortality rates of elderly patients within the first 30 days was 10.8 percent.

There was an exception: for older doctors who were treating high volumes of patients, age did not translate to higher mortality in patients, according to the study published in The BMJ.

Jena: Because we were concerned about the possibility that older doctors might treat sicker patients and as a result their outcomes might be worse, not because of the care that was provided by the doctors, but because of the effect that these patients were sicker and at a higher risk of mortality.

But Tsugawa and his team found that among doctors who treat a large number of patients - an average of 200 per year - there was no difference between older and younger.

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The researchers stress their results are purely observational and no causal relationship between doctor age and patient relationship can be inferred.

Furthermore, older doctors who see a lot of patients may be forced to keep up with the most up-to-date methods - or indeed attract the most patients because they keep up. All the patients were aged 65 or older and on Medicare. That allows for a degree of randomization of patients to doctors of varying age, which allows us to better elucidate what is the potential impact of a doctor's age on patient outcomes.

The age of a physician may increase a patient's risk of dying in the hospital, according to a new study from Harvard Medical School. Additionally, the analysis focused on one subspecialty-hospitalists-and the findings may not apply to other specialists.

"Older physicians bring invaluable richness of knowledge and depth of experience, yet their clinical skills may begin to lag behind over time".

The link between clinical performance and physician age has long fascinated doctors, health care policy researchers and social scientists alike. For instance, doctors' skills may deteriorate over time - or simply become outdated, and older doctors may be more likely to rely on anecdotal rather than evidence-based practices.

"Medical technologies are evolving all the time and it might be harder for older doctors to keep up with the evidence", added Tsugawa, who also headed a study that said the patients of female doctors were four percent less likely to die than those treated by men.

Harvard Medical School has more than 11,000 faculty working in 10 academic departments located at the School's Boston campus or in hospital-based clinical departments at 15 Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals and research institutes: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children's Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Hebrew SeniorLife, Joslin Diabetes Center, Judge Baker Children's Center, Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital, Mount Auburn Hospital, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and VA Boston Healthcare System.

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