Can A Doctor's Age Affect Patients' Mortality Rate?
A new study suggests that patients who undergo treatment from older doctors have a greater mortality risk vis-à-vis people who receive treatment from younger physicians.
Researchers from the Harvard University's School of Medicine and T.H Chan School of Public Health conducted the study, which mainly focused on hospitalists.
Does A Doctor's Age Affect A Patient's Survival Chances?
To determine whether the doctor's age had any link with the patient's mortality risk, researchers analyzed over 730,000 hospital admissions of Medicare patients. All the cases involved patients who were 65 years or older and were treated between 2011 and 2014. The treatment of these patients involved 18,800 hospitalists.
Researchers noted that the death rate was around 10.8 percent in people treated by doctors younger than 40 years. On the other hand, the mortality was 12.1 percent in patients treated by doctors aged 60 years or above. Scientists say that even though the difference does not seem too big, it is nonetheless scientifically relevant.
This mortality risk difference can be translated to imply that 1 extra patient dies for every 77 people treated by a doctor aged 60 years or above, when compared to treatment from doctors aged 40 years or younger.
"This difference is not merely statistically significant, but clinically important — it is comparable to the difference in death rates observed between patients at high risk for heart disease who are treated with proper heart medications and those who receive none," Anupam Jena, the study senior and a medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, remarked.
However, the study also found that doctor's age did not make any difference to the patient's mortality risk if the physician in question regularly treated several people.
Why A Doctor's Age May Affect A Patient's Mortality Risk
While it is not clear why treatment by older doctors becomes less effective, researchers associated with the study highlighted some possible causes.
The first theory suggests that when younger, doctors undergo residency training. This sharpens the doctor's skill as they get new challenging cases to treat. However, after the training is complete, doctors may start losing the skills over the years.
Researchers warn that the study ascertaining a link between a doctor's age and a patient's mortality risk is primarily an observational one. It does not prove that older doctors are less proficient at their job. Furthermore, the study mainly involved analysis of hospitalists and the results may not translate to other doctors.
However, researchers deem that more analysis needs to be conducted to uncover factors, which may be affecting the higher mortality rates among patients treated by older physicians.
The study's results are published in the May 16 edition of the British Medical Journal.
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