As Doctor's Age Climbs, So Does Patient Death Rate

Researchers say finding is 'clinically important'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2017 12:05 PM CDT

(Newser) – Having a more experienced doctor might not be best. That's the message from a Harvard Medical School study published in the British Medical Journal that appears to show patient mortality rate increases with the age of a doctor. The increase is small but significant: In a study of more than 735,000 elderly patients (65 and older) admitted to the hospital between 2011 and 2014—in which researchers accounted for such variables as the severity of patients' conditions—the 30-day mortality rate was 12.1% when doctors were 60 and older, 11.3% with doctors 50 to 59, 11.1% with doctors 40 to 49, and 10.8% with doctors under 40, reports Ars Technica. That means doctors 60 and above—whose care was more expensive— would encounter one additional death per 77 patients than doctors 40 and younger, per a release.

That's "comparable to the difference in death rates observed between patients at high risk for heart disease who are treated with proper heart medications and those who receive none," and therefore "clinically important," study co-author Anupam Jena explains. However, older doctors who saw lots of patients weren't associated with a boost in mortality rates. The higher caseloads of these doctors may help them maintain their clinical skills, whereas younger doctors, although likely to be up to date on the latest methods and treatments, may see hands-on skills fade if they don't see lots of patients, researchers explain. They conclude the "continuing medical education of physicians could be important." (Doctors rake in the big bucks.)

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