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Older doctors could be a risk to patients

In previous posts, we have discussed medical malpractice caused by young and inexperienced doctors and surgeons. Recent evidence suggests that older doctors with ailing health can also pose serious risk to patients. With the baby boomers coming into retirement age, the issue of aging doctors is prominent in New York City and nationwide.

Unlike some professional licensing programs, including federal pilot licenses, which require yearly tests to ensure good health and ability, the medical profession has no regulations to test mental and physical abilities of aging doctors. This can create serious risks, especially when an older doctor suffers dementia, memory loss, or even physical ailments that can impact ability.

Older doctors with dementia could forget about their patients, necessary treatment, or simply be unable to diagnose. Aged doctors may also be at a greater risk of stroke or heart attack which could endanger patients on the operating table or in the emergency room. Impaired physicians are a serious risk and could be leave hospitals open to medical malpractice liability in the event of an injury or wrongful death.

Some hospitals are trying to take control of the issue by imposing regulations for aging doctors to ensure that they are competent to treat patients. While there are no formal evaluations required to ensure the competence of older doctors, some programs have been initiated to test doctors who have been referred by state boards. According to recent statistics there are about 8,000 practicing doctors with full-blown dementia.

Like the rest of us, doctors are not immune to the effects of aging. The onset of dementia can be gradual, but debilitating. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms are noticed when it is too late. In many cases, a doctor's inability is not recognized until after the injury or death of a patient. If you or someone you love was injured by an aged doctor, you should consult with an advocate who can review the facts of your case. A hospital may be liable for your losses.

Source: The Washington Post, "As doctors grow older, hospitals begin requiring them to prove they're still fit," Sandra G. Boodman, Dec. 10, 2012