November 17, 2012 at 03:00 AM EST
Do Aging Doctors Put Patients' Safety at Risk?
November 17, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Do Aging Doctors Put Patients' Safety at Risk?

As much as we don't always want to admit it, the unfortunate truth is some abilities decline with age. For some people, the biggest challenges come from physical changes, like impaired coordination, loss of strength, increased fatigue or trouble with vision and hearing. For others, cognitive problems like memory loss or dementia can take a huge toll.

This loss of functioning can bring serious safety risks. Most people have heard stories about elderly drivers who cause serious accidents and the resulting calls for new licensing exams for senior citizens. But what about aging physicians? Should they be required to take competency tests to prove they can avoid medical mistakes and keep patients safe?

Currently, only about 5 percent of hospitals in the United States have age-based policies for their physicians. However, as the medical profession ages, more people are looking for ways to identify physicians who, because of the tolls of aging, are no longer fit to care for their patients.

Although many physicians are able to provide excellent care well into old age, the medical profession is not immune to the burdens of old age. Dementia is one potential problem -- affecting between 3 and 11 percent of seniors-- and it is not always easy to detect. Even those who don't develop dementia will experience mental decline as they get older. A study published in the Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions showed that it takes twice as long for people in their 70s to process mental tasks when compared to people in their 20s.

According to a meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a substantial number of physicians experience a significant decline in their ability to provide quality care as they get older.

Evaluations Can Prevent Errors

Competency evaluations can go a long way to address this problem. Though no one is suggesting that all physicians of a certain age be forced into retirement, periodic evaluations can help ensure that patients aren't inadvertently put at risk. Although there is no standard evaluation in place, some hospitals have had success using vocational specialists to evaluate physicians' abilities. They can then work with the doctors to figure out what accommodations need to be made.

Of course, it is difficult to ask an experienced physician to give up his or her career. But, patient safety has to be the number one priority. Even a small mistake or delayed diagnosis can have life-threatening consequences.

Patients who are harmed by a doctor's mistake may be able to recover compensation in a medical malpractice lawsuit. If you or a loved one has been hurt by a doctor's mistake or misdiagnosis, a New York medical malpractice lawyer can help you understand your rights.

Article provided by Dankner, Milstein & Ruffo, P.C.
Visit us at www.danknermilstein.com

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