A study in the March issue of Anesthesiology, revealed that anesthesiologists over the age of 65 years had more frequent litigations and were linked to a higher severity of patient injury.
Lead researcher, Michael J. Tessler, M.D. said:
"We observed a modest but significant increase in the rate of litigation against older anesthesiologists. More research is needed to confirm the finding of this study and, if true, identify the cause or causes of the increased rate of litigation so that the quality of clinical practices can be improved."
Mark A. Warner, M.D., the last president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), warned his colleagues, in an accompanying editorial, to look at the complete picture before drawing hasty conclusions about older anesthesiologists' ability to care for patients, saying:
"Older physicians, including anesthesiologists, have developed a wealth of experiences during their years in practice that regularly benefit patients. The study's findings remind all physicians that they need to understand their practices, the changes that they personally will experience as they age and the value of working with colleagues to gain continuous feedback about their personal performance in patient care."
He also highlights the importance for all physicians to recognize their own attributes required to provide the best possible care to their patients, saying that all physicians should be well rested and alert and should have sufficient time away from their practices to recharge and to be up-to-date with current knowledge and practices.
"All physicians should know their personal limits and adjust their practices as they get older to best serve patients. For example, older physicians may choose to reduce the number of hours they work during the nighttime to ensure that they are well rested and alert when caring for patients."
Dr. Tessler, and his team assessed billing data from British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario for a 10-year period from January 1, 1993 through December 31, 2002 for all procedures performed by specialist anesthesiologists, categorized into age groups for those less than 51 years old, 51-64 years old and those 65 years old and older. They also assessed all lawsuits dealt by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), in which CMPA experts believed the anesthesiologist to be at least partially responsible for events and outcomes noted in the lawsuits.
Dr. Tessler commented:
"This is the first study to focus on this question. These findings help make anesthesiologists aware of the impact age may have on their work. However, no immediate changes in practice are required until the issue is examined more widely and confirmed in other environments."
Written by Petra Rattue