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Competency in Older Physicians

Tuesday, November 10, 2015By ALG
With a large aging population of baby boomer physicians, a recent Medscape article raises the question of competency in older doctors. Should older doctors be screened for cognitive impairments or other age-related issues, and at what age should that screening or testing begin? Some doctors are in favor of standardizing these polices, and others consider it age discrimination. A variety of hospitals across the nation have already implemented their own form of age-related screening policies for older doctors.  

Patient Safety Needs to be The Top Priority 

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. For this reason, above all else, patient safety needs to be the top priority at all times. Of course, it’s important to respect the dignity, skills and knowledge an older physician brings to the table, but we also have to use common sense to protect patients. We know that with age comes a decline in physical and cognitive health. Obviously, everybody ages differently, but at the end of the day, everybody ages, and there needs to be some kind of screening or accountability to ensure patient safety is still the number-one priority. 

Standardization of Senior Doctor Competency Policies 

The main concern with allowing an aging physician to determine when he or she should retire is fraught with complications. If they’re to police themselves, many doctors will continue to work after cognitive impairment sets in, and don’t count on their coworkers or colleagues to speak up either. There should be a standardization of policies whether they start at age 65 or 70 to begin screening and testing for cognitive impairment or diminished skills.  

Medical Malpractice in California 

At this point, many physician groups have balked at the potential for standardized age-based testing policies. Ultimately, the decision will likely be left up to each individual hospital or healthcare facility to determine whether or not to implement some type of guideline for age-based cognitive or skill testing. 

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