Per this article in the New York Times, an aging population has many implications. It’s important to note that one-third of the nation’s physicians are over 65, and that proportion is expected to rise. Many doctors, of course, retain their skills and sharpness of mind into their 70s and beyond. And the type of work a physician performs makes a difference: A 2006 study found that in complicated operations, patients’ mortality rates were higher when the surgeon was 60 or older, though there was no difference between younger and older doctors in routine operations.
Patient advocates note that commercial pilots, who are also responsible for the safety of others, must retire at age 65 and must undergo physical and mental exams every six months starting at 40. Yet “the profession of medicine has never really had an organized way to measure physician competency,” said Diane Pinakiewicz, president of the nonprofit National Patient Safety Foundation. “We need to be systematically and comprehensively evaluating physicians on some sort of periodic basis.”
Some experts are calling for regular cognitive and physical screening once doctors reach 65 or 70, and a small cadre of hospitals have instituted screening for older physicians. Some specialty boards already require physicians to renew their certification every 7 to 10 years and have toughened recertification requirements.
What would screening entail? The answer to that question is unclear. Some doubt that a single type of exam can be used to assess the performance of doctors from a variety of specialties. “More research is needed for us to define what combination of cognitive and motor issues are important,” said Dr. Stuart Green, a member of the ethics committee of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Read more…