There is controversy regarding aging practitioners. It is questioned whether or not older physicians are capable of contributing to the overall goal of successfully meeting health demands. Regardless of age, physicians are held to high expectations: impressive education, current knowledge, and competency to apply skills. However, with nearly one fourth of all doctors in the United States older than age 65, these expectations are confronted with doubt.
While doctors are required to meet licensing requirements and few hospitals have screening policies, the United States lacks national guidelines to evaluate aging physicians. In response to this concern, both mandatory and voluntary demonstrations of ongoing competency are being considered as effective testing methods.
Unlike U.S. pilots, military personnel and a few other professions where mistakes can be deadly, doctors have no mandatory retirement age. All doctors must meet state licensing requirements, and some hospitals require age-based screening. But there are no national mandates or guidelines on how to make sure older physicians can still do their jobs safely.
It’s time to change that, the report suggests, noting that the number of U.S. physicians aged 65 and older has quadrupled since 1975 and is now 240,000—one-fourth of all U.S. doctors—although not all still see patients.
The report asks the AMA to spearhead a doctor-led effort to develop national guidelines and screening methods.
It’s among more than 250 reports and resolutions prepared for the AMA’s annual policy-making meeting in Chicago. AMA delegates vote Monday through Wednesday on which proposals become official AMA policy.
The AMA’s Council on Medical Education wrote the report and says “physicians should be allowed to remain in practice as long as patient safety is not endangered.” But physicians should develop guidelines and standards for monitoring and assessing both their own and their colleagues’ competency. Doing so “may head off a call for mandatory retirement ages or imposition of guidelines by others,” the council’s report says.
Typical age-related changes in hearing, vision, memory and motor skills all could potentially affect physicians’ competence, the report says, but notes there is no evidence that directly links these changes to worse outcomes for patients.
While some physicians think they will know when it’s time to hang up the stethoscope, the report says evidence disputes that.
U.S. physicians must be licensed to practice in the state where they work and requirements generally include an evaluation of medical education and training, malpractice and discipline history. Licenses must be renewed yearly or every two years, but no competency exams are required after initial licensure, regardless of the doctor’s age.
Contributors: Marissa Garey