Can your doctor’s age impact your health? As I age, doctors somehow get younger and younger. I swear that I have seen doctors as young as Doogie Howser (note – if you don’t get this reference, you are young enough that doctors still seem old to you!). When I face a young doctor, I often worry they are not experienced enough to provide me with proper care – they’re still learning, right? Young doctors are fresh with medical school knowledge, but lack the years of knowledge that experienced doctors bring to your care. I also worry about older doctors. What if their age interferes in their ability to remember important medical information? Can older doctors make good decisions?
What does the research show about the impact of doctor’s age on patient health?
A recently published study found that hospitalists (internists who provide care in hospitals) over age 60 had higher levels of patient mortality than hospitalists under age 40. The difference was not alarming, but was statistically significant. Interestingly, hospitalists who had high patient caseloads did not have a higher level of patient mortality. The study authors suggest that older doctors who only treat a relatively small number of patients may need regular training refreshers to keep their clinical skills sharp.
Anupam Jena, one of the study’s authors who is an associate professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School stated: “The results of our study suggest the critical importance of continuing medical education throughout a doctor’s entire career, regardless of age and experience.”
What can you do if your doctor is older?
It goes without saying that there are plenty of doctors over age 60 who maintain sharp clinical skills. However, it is always a good idea to make sure that your doctor keeps up with training.
If your doctor is in his/her 60s, there is a chance retirement is around the corner. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor how much longer he/she expects to work. I am not suggesting that you immediately leave any of your doctors who are over 60. However, it might be a good idea to start planning for his/her retirement. It can take time to find a new doctor who is taking new patients, accepts your insurance, and who is a good personality fit for you.
What if your doctor is very young?
Don’t immediately assume your young doctor doesn’t know what he/she is doing. But don’t assume they know everything either. Medicine is part art and part science. Properly diagnosing and treating patients requires “book knowledge” combined with experience. If you think your doctor is too inexperienced to provide you with the care you need, do not hesitate to look for a more experienced doctor.
What should you consider when evaluating your doctor?
No matter how old your doctor is, consider the following:
- Make sure your doctors are trained and certified in the specialty for which they are treating you. Ask your doctor how they maintain their skills in the ever-changing landscape of medicine.
- Ask your doctor how much experience he/she has with your specific condition. If possible, choose a doctor who is familiar with your condition. For very rare conditions, this may mean a doctor who has treated just a few patients. For more common conditions, try to find a doctor who has treated hundreds of similar patients.
- Whenever possible, get a 2nd, or even 3rd, opinion. It’s best to get further opinions from a doctor who isn’t in the same hospital system as your first doctor.
- If something doesn’t seem right, speak up!
No matter how old your doctor is, being engaged in your care will help you get the best care and outcome possible. Read these posts for more information:
- Understanding Medical Information Is Harder Than Most Realize.
- 10 Tips for a Better Medical Appointment.
- Why Take Detailed Notes at Doctor Appointments?
- 10 Tips to Communicate Better with Doctors.
- 6 Tips to Better Manage Your Care.
- What is the Best Time of Day for Medical Care?
- How Can You Get the Best Healthcare? Actively Participate!