LIVING

Elderly Patients Treated By Older Doctors Face Increased Risk Of Dying

05/17/2017 09:57 EDT | Updated 05/17/2017 09:57 EDT

It may be time to re-think your bias against younger doctors.

According to new research published this week in the British Medical Journal, being treated by an older doctor — as opposed to a younger physician — may in fact increase your chance of dying within a month of hospital admittance if you're 65 years old or older.

The observational study found that the 30-day mortality rate was 10.8 per cent for older people treated by doctors under 40 years of age; 11.1 per cent when treated by doctors between 40 and 49 years old; 11.3 per cent when treated by doctors between 50 and 59 years old; and finally, 12.1 per cent when treated by doctors aged 60 years old and up.

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However, the study noted that this effect was not noticeable with older doctors who deal with a high volume of patients (200 or more a year).

"Our team was not surprised by the findings," said study lead author Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, a research associate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

It has long been assumed that older doctors provide better care than their younger colleagues because they have more experience. The study found, however, that doctors who are newer to their careers and have undergone more recent training make safer decisions for their patients.

The results found that for every 77 patients treated by a physician aged 60 or older, one fewer patient would die within 30 days if those same patients had been treated by a doctor who was younger than 40.

“Older physicians bring invaluable richness of knowledge and depth of experience, yet their clinical skills may begin to lag behind over time,” said study co-author, Professor Anupam Jena.

“The results of our study suggest the critical importance of continuing medical education throughout a doctor’s entire career, regardless of age and experience.”

“Older physicians bring invaluable richness of knowledge and depth of experience, yet their clinical skills may begin to lag behind over time."

The study's authors note, though, that these findings shouldn't deter people from seeing older doctors.

"There are many other factors patients should take into account when selecting their doctors that may be more important than their age," said Dr. Tsugawa.

Linda Aiken, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, noted in an accompanying journal editorial that "patients should be more-informed consumers in selecting a hospital" rather than a specific doctor.

"Clinicians in hospitals with important responsibilities for patients vary significantly in their education and qualifications," she wrote, adding, "All hospitals are not the same."

The study surveyed nearly 737,000 American hospital patients who were receiving Medicare between 2011 and 2014, and almost 19,000 doctors were involved in their care.