A respected surgeon goes on vacation and forgets he has patients checked in at a hospital, waiting for him. An internist gets lost in his own office, on his way from one examination room to another. Another surgeon suffers from Alzheimer's, yet is allowed to assist with surgeries because hospital administrators can't bring themselves to tell him it's time to retire.
These are all real-life tales from an expert who has a difficult job: evaluating doctors who might be too old to continue to practice medicine. While those doctors could well have difficulty adjusting to retirement, much worse prospects loom for West Virginia patients who could be harmed by their incompetence or negligence.
The American Medical Association says that of the nation's one million doctors, approximately 42 percent are 55 years or older. Twenty-one percent are over the age of 65.
Those figures indicate the physician population is aging rapidly. The figures are up sharply from 2006, when 38 percent of doctors were above 55 and 18 percent were at 65 or older.
Observers say the doctor population figures to continue to gray, as many physicians work well past traditional retirement ages for financial and personal reasons.
But contrast the aging in their profession with commercial airline pilots, who are forced to retire at 65 and who must undergo mandatory health screenings from the day they turn 40. Remarkably, doctors have no such required screenings of their health or skills that could help determine if they remain competent as they age.
Most states do require doctors to continue their educations in order to retain their medical licenses, but observers say the courses aren't rigorous, noting that as long as the doctor shows up, he or she will get credit for taking and completing the course.
We'll have more on the subject of aging doctors in our next blog post.
Clearly, patients who have been harmed by a careless or negligent physician, regardless of the doctor's age, should contact an attorney to discuss their legal options.
Source: The Washington Post, "As doctors grow older, hospitals begin requiring them to prove they're still fit," Sandra G. Boodman, Dec. 10, 2012
- Our West Virginia law firm represents clients in Charleston and across the state who have been injured in cases of medical malpractice.