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Could Your Doctor's Age Lead to an Increased Risk for Medical Errors?

Doctors age just like everybody else, meaning they can suffer from loss of coordination, lapses in memory, and other symptoms of the aging process. But does that also make them more prone to medical errors?

As highlighted in recent studies, the symptoms of the aging process can range from obvious to much more subtle. For instance, doctors may have experienced a hand tremor that poses dangers during surgery, or a slight decline in cognitive functioning that impacts a doctor’s ability to react to novel patient presentations or recall key factors when making a diagnosis.

Research studies also confirm that aging can impact the medical care provided by doctors. Adults in their 70s take twice as long to process the same mental tasks as people in their 20s, according to a Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions study published in 2010. In addition, a 2005 Annals of Internal Medicine review of prior research found that 52 percent of those studies demonstrated a decline in physicians’ quality of care linked to advancing age and the passage of years since their medical school and residency training.

Despite the risks, there are very few rules for dealing with aging doctors. Only 5 percent of hospitals have implemented age-based policies for medical staff, according to Jonathan H. Burroughs, MD, president and CEO of The Burroughs Healthcare Consulting Network. As physicians continue to work longer, Burroughs suggests that all hospitals make annual renewal of privileges for physicians older than 70 contingent upon passing a fitness-for-duty evaluation that tests cognitive functioning and other key skills.

Unfortunately, most hospitals do not have policies in place to monitor older physicians. This often means that deficiencies are not discovered until after they impact patient safety.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a surgical error or other serious medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.