Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Physician Age And Malpractice: Is There A Correlation?

According to a recent article from The American Medical Association (AMA), hospitals are starting to scrutinize the relationship between physicians' age and the quality of care they provide. A study cited in the article summarized the potential scope of the problem:

A Feb. 15, 2005, Annals of Internal Medicine systematic review of 62 studies found that 52% of those studies demonstrated a decline in physicians’ quality linked to advancing age and the passage of years since their medical school and residency training.

As I reflect back on all the medical malpractice cases I have litigated, I have seen a direct relationship between age and substandard medical care on only one occasion. In that case, an elderly surgeon (i think he was approximately 70 years old) obliterated my client's common bile duct during routine laparosopic gall bladder surgery. This is a definite no no during gall bladder surgery, as it is the VERY structure a surgeon is NOT supposed to cut, for it has disasterous consequences for a patient's ability to move bile from her liver to her stomach.

To make matters worse, one month before he cut my client's bile duct in half, he did the exact same thing to another patient's bile duct during another gall bladder surgery. The sad part of it was that, at one time, this surgeon enjoyed a good reputation in his local community. My take on it was that it was not advanced age that became his nemesis. Rather, it was pride and ego and arrogance and not knowing when to throw in the towel.

These fralties seem to be more prevalant and contribute more to medical negligence than advanced age, in my experience. To that list I would add complacency as a major contributor to malpractice. On too many occasions, I have seen otherwise competent physicians that carry an "I've seen this before" or "I have done hundreds of these before" attitude to a procedure or a set of symptoms. This leads to overconfidence or even arrogance and a failure to not do more in the face of symptoms that call for action.

I suppose that it's a good thing that hospitals are probably very quietly looking into this issue. But, in my humble opinion, complacency is immune to age. What every professional--doctor, lawyer, accountant, whover--needs to remember is that a know it all or complacent attitude knows no chronological boundries.   


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