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Sensing Savvy

Does Physician Age Impact Patient Outcomes?

Posted by Roger DeLong, CP, PE, MBA on Aug 2, 2017 7:30:00 AM

does physician age impact patient outcomesCan a physician’s age affect whether his or her patient dies? Does physician age impact patient outcomes? Researchers wanted to find out, and what they discovered was surprising.

Researchers in England examined a group of elderly U.S. patients on Medicare who had serious illnesses, required hospital admission and who were being cared for by a hospitalist. They found that the mortality rate rose to 12 percent for those patients who were cared for by physicians aged 60 and up. The mortality rate was a little over 11.3 percent for those aged 50-59, just over 11 percent for those in their 40s and 10.8 percent for those doctors under age 40.

Why is Physician Age a Factor?

With age comes more professional experience, and generally that means better outcomes or results, right? Not for many aging doctors, the study found. Many older doctors were found to have decreasing knowledge of clinical knowledge and less adherence to guidelines. Lead researcher Dr. Anupam Jena also noted that there was a concern that as doctors advanced beyond their residency years, they would become out of touch with the latest technologies and treatments. However, Jena and his team noted that there is no clear-cut connection that being treated by an older doctor actually increases a patient’s risk of death. The team also found that the mortality rate did not rise among older physicians who saw high volumes of patients. The reason? The high volume might help keep doctors on top of treatment advances and technologies.

How to Stay Up-to-Date

Keeping up with the latest medical advancements and clinical research can seem impossible. In residency, physicians are surrounded by opportunities to learn more and ask questions. But once you enter into a practice, it can seem like those opportunities quickly disappear.

“It is estimated that the doubling time of medical knowledge in 1950 was 50 years; in 1980, 7 years; and in 2010, 3.5 years. In 2020 it is projected to be 0.2 years—just 73 days. Students who began medical school in the autumn of 2010 will experience approximately three doublings in knowledge by the time they complete the minimum length of training (7 years) needed to practice medicine. Students who graduate in 2020 will experience four doublings in knowledge. What was learned in the first 3 years of medical school will be just 6 percent of what is known at the end of the decade from 2010 to 2020. Knowledge is expanding faster than our ability to assimilate and apply it effectively; and this is as true in education and patient care as it is in research,” wrote Dr. Peter Densen in a paper in the Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association.

So, as a busy physician, what can you do to make sure you’re up-to-date on the latest medical knowledge?

Dr. Elisabeth Poorman recommends these ways to stay current:

Keep asking questions. Poorman discusses her practice’s reliance on swabs to diagnose the flu: “...I noticed a discrepancy between my clinical diagnosis of flu and the swab, which was often negative. With this as a spur, I found that rapid diagnostic tests have a specificity of 90%, sensitivity as low as 42% in clinical practice. Therefore, these tests can be used to rule out, but not rule in, the diagnosis of influenza. I am now much more likely to diagnose flu and to use swabs mostly when I am concerned about institutional outbreaks.”

Work in a challenging environment. While it can be tempting to stick with familiar treatments and diagnoses once you leave residency, Poorman recommends stepping outside your comfort zone. Look to your colleagues to see if they’re doing something differently that challenges your own assumptions about how medicine should be practiced.

Let others find resources for you. The idea of endlessly scrolling or leafing through journals and articles after a busy day or on a break is probably not your idea of relaxing. She recommends subscribing to a few key publications or journals and blogs. That way, you get a daily digest of information sent straight to your inbox and you can read it at your leisure.

What are some ways you stay up-to-date as a physician? Share them in the comments below.

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