Researchers at Harvard have discovered that age does matter when it comes to hospital physicians. According to the findings of their study, which were published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), there is a link between physician age and clinical performance. One might think that the older a physician is, the more experience they have and therefore, the better their clinical performance will be. However, these researchers charted statistics indicating that this may not always be the case.
The Harvard study analyzed the clinical performance of a specific type of physician: hospitalists. Hospitalists are physicians whose primary focus is caring for hospitalized patients. Researchers noted that for patients treated by hospitalists aged 40 and younger, there is a 10.8 percent mortality rate as compared to a 12.1 percent mortality rate for patients treated by hospitalists aged 60 and older. This age range correlates to the widest gap; the comparison of hospitalists in their 40’s to those in their 50’s reveals only a 0.2 percent difference in mortality rates among patients.
Interestingly, age did not make a difference in mortality rates for physicians who managed large numbers of patients because physicians have more opportunities to utilize their skills. One of the study’s authors explains that residency exposes physicians to many cases, allowing them to gain an abundance of experience through training. Once residency ends, clinical skills may begin to decline as time passes, unless physicians maintain a high volume of patients.
The findings of this study highlight the importance of continuing education for medical practitioners, according to the study’s authors. Emerging technology, scientific evidence, and changing clinical guidelines is critical to maintaining clinical performance, whatever the physician’s age. Regarding the evolution of physicians’ skills, authors suggest that patient outcomes provide a more meaningful analysis than other measurements, such as test scores.
The Harvard researchers emphasize that this study does not show a cause and effect between physician age and patient outcomes, but rather a link between the two by warranting further examination into potential contributing factors to the mortality rates among patients treated by older physicians.
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