You’re more likely to die if treated by older doctor

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Patients in hospital are more likely to die when treated by doctors who are older, new research has found.

Those treated by medics over 60 had a higher mortality rate within a month of admission compared to those cared for by physicians under 40.

The difference was one additional patient death for every 77 individuals.

Study senior investigator Anupam Jena, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School which carried out the research said the findings raise some serious concerns.

‘It is 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,’ she said.

Patients treated by doctors over 60 were more likely to die within a month of admission compared to those cared for by physicians under 40 (stock image)

Patients treated by doctors over 60 were more likely to die within a month of admission compared to those cared for by physicians under 40 (stock image)

Patients treated by doctors over 60 were more likely to die within a month of admission compared to those cared for by physicians under 40 (stock image)

Key findings

THE ‘WEEKEND-EFFECT’ IN HOSPITALS 

Patients who are admitted to hospital at the weekend are more likely to die within 30 days, official figures from April show.

An emergency trip to hospital on a weekend slightly increases the length of a patient’s hospital stay.

The latest findings, which were collated and released by the NHS, support evidence of a so-called ‘weekend effect’.

Experts suggested it could be down to a lack of services available both in and out of the hospital at weekends – an issue widely cited by researchers.

Senior doctors are rarely present on Saturdays and Sundays and there are not always staff on hand to carry out x-rays, blood tests or other vital scans.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously cited evidence of this issue in his attempt to push for a seven-day NHS and a new contract for junior doctors.

Data of more than 16.3 million patient admissions, collected by the health service and released last October, backed up his claims. 

The researchers looked at the records of 730,000 Medicare patients treated between 2011 and 2014 by more than 18,800 hospital-based internists. 

The differences in patient mortality rates between physicians in their 40s and 50s were far less pronounced at 0.2 percent.

However, patient death rates crept up at a regular pace as physicians got older. 

The difference in death risk persisted even when investigators accounted for patients’ age and the severity of their conditions.  

The team also found that physician age made no difference in mortality outcomes for doctors who managed large numbers of patients.

This suggests that treating more patients does not bring additional risks as it keeps a doctor’s skill set strong.

The knowledge and experience gained by older doctors is important, but they must keep up with rapid changes in medical research, technology and changing clinical guidelines, say the researchers. 

‘The results of our study suggest the critical importance of continuing medical education throughout a doctor’s entire career, regardless of age and experience,’ Professor Jena said.

The study authors suggest further research is needed before drawing any final conclusions about how older physicians perform on the job.

The findings were published in The BMJ.

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