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Should Your Doctor Retire? Experts Worry About Aging Physicians

For many Americans, age is often an important indicator that a doctor has more experience. We tend to trust professionals who have spent more time working with similar patients. To a certain extent, that's probably a fair assessment. However, experts are beginning to come forward with concerns about the medical profession. Many doctors continue to work well past the age at which most people would retire - this has big safety implications for patients as doctors' health begins to deteriorate as well.

Currently, 21 percent of America's doctors are over age 65. This is up from 18 percent as recently as 2006.

For example, one expert who evaluates doctors to determine whether they should continue practicing estimates that as many as 8,000 physicians currently have dementia. A doctor who suffers from dementia while still treating patients is likely to commit a serious mistake like a medication error. Some might even say this is only a matter of time.

Other age-related risks can include strokes and heart attacks. Consider the problems that could result if a surgeon suffered a stroke in the middle of a procedure.

On top of these age worries, other experts point to a concerning lack of ongoing review for physicians. Doctors do not have to continue learning current techniques or procedures and they may fall behind more recent med school graduates. Patients often assume that someone is keeping an eye on doctors to make sure they are still qualified to provide care. The reality is that this is just not the case. Medical review boards often only step in after a licensed doctor has done something wrong - by then, the damage is done and patients will have to live with the consequences of a doctor's incompetence.

Source: MedPageToday, "Aging Doctors Come Under Greater Scrutiny," Sandra Boodman, Dec. 16, 2013

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