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Older Doctors Have Higher Patient Death Rates, Study Says

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Patients who seek treatment from younger doctors might have better chances of not dying, a new study by Harvard researchers states – news that doesn’t bode well for the older physicians out there, despite their advantage in years of experience.

Those who regularly see older doctors have a higher mortality rate compared to patients of younger ones, the study found. It examined data of over 700,000 patients being treated by some 19,000 doctors from 2011 to 2014, USA Today reports. All the patients were ages 65 and up, and covered by Medicare.

The information showed a trend: mortality rates rose as the age of the doctors also increased. Patients with doctors under the age of 40 had a 30-day mortality rate of 10.8%. Among doctors ages 40 to 49, mortality rates went up to 11.1%, then to 11.3% with doctors aged 50 to 59. The mortality rate for patients seeing doctors over 60 years old was 12.2%.

However, the researchers clarified that their work was “observational” and that further research is necessary to confirm these findings. In addition, older doctors with many patients did not seem to have the same increase in patient deaths, which the researchers theorize is because these doctors might be keeping up with the latest trends in medical technology because of their large patient pool.

Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa of Harvard said these findings “suggest that continuing medical education of physicians could be important and that continual assessment of outcomes might be useful.” He added,

One thing I want to emphasize is that we don’t think as doctors get old that their quality gets worse. It is more likely that what we are observing is the differences in training they have received.

Younger doctors are more likely to be familiar with the latest techniques and technologies, which help them with preventing patient deaths.

Tsugawa said, “Medical technologies are evolving all the time and it might be harder for older doctors to keep up with the evidence. Newer doctors train based on the newest evidence and skills and technologies. Therefore, they may be more up-to-date when they start providing care.”

The study was published in the British Medical Journal.

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