Issues with High Quality Health Care
As the "baby boomers", the largest population group in the U.S. ages, the need for high quality health care will increase correspondingly. With this increase, problems with the quality of care provided by an aging population of doctors, may grow as well, which could compromise patient safety.
On January 24, 2011, New York Times reporter, Laurie Tarkan wrote on concerns with regard to the ability of aging physicians to appropriately care for patients and their medical needs. According to the article, over one third of U.S. physicians are over 65 years old, and personal financial pressures make it likely that more and more physicians will continue to practice into their elder years. Ms. Tarkan discussed a case in California, where a 78-year-old vascular surgeon failed to operate to save a patient from death by a preventable pulmonary embolism, despite the calls for help from nurses. Even after this tragic incident, the surgeon continued to practice for four years before he was referred for a competency assessment.
Unfortunately, the medical profession has no formal way of measuring physician competency. Given this, there is still a risk that physicians that loose their competency may compromise patient safety. The problem is compounded by the fact that though doctors do have a duty to report problems with other doctors, they often do not do so, as these senior physicians serve as mentors and trainers. Until this problem can be remedied, there is a continuing and increasing risk that patient safety could be compromised by incompetent aging physicians.