After adjusting for patient, physician, and hospital characteristics that could have affected the results, patients' 30 day mortality rates were 10.8% for physicians aged less than 40, 11.1% for physicians aged 40-49, 11.3% for physicians aged 50-59, and 12.1% for physicians aged 60 or over. However, patient death rates crept up at a regular pace as physicians got older.
Jena: Because we were concerned about the possibility that older doctors might treat sicker patients and as a result their outcomes might be worse, not because of the care that was provided by the doctors, but because of the effect that these patients were sicker and at a higher risk of mortality.
Second, there is ongoing debate about what should be required of physicians in terms of continuing medical education as they age and go further out from residency. For instance, doctors' skills may deteriorate over time or simply become outdated.
Ultimately, the researchers found that doctor age had no impact on the risk that a patient would be readmitted after discharge.
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The researchers stress that this study is purely observational and that it doesn't prove a cause and effect relationship between physician age and patient outcomes.
If the results are causal, they suggest that for every 77 patients treated by doctors aged 60 or over, one fewer patient would die within 30 days of admission if those patients were cared for by physicians aged less than 40.
But Tsugawa and his team found that among doctors who treat a large number of patients - an average of 200 per year - there was no difference between older and younger.
"Older physicians bring invaluable richness of knowledge and depth of experience, yet their clinical skills may begin to lag behind over time."
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"Medical technologies are evolving all the time and it might be harder for older doctors to keep up with the evidence". The study only focused on hospitalists, with the findings possibly not translating to doctors in speciality fields.
"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. According to Ars Technica, the study merely shows a correlation that researches now hope to study further.
For one, she said, "clinicians in hospitals with important responsibilities for patients vary significantly in their education and qualifications". "Therefore, they may be more up-to-date when they start providing care", Tsugawa told CBS.
But they concluded: "Within the same hospital, patients treated by older physicians had higher mortality than patients cared for by younger physicians, except those physicians treating high volumes of patients".
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