Should Older Physicians Take Competency Tests?

As the baby boomer generation enters into its later years, more and more of the nation's medical professionals are nearing retirement age. While many physicians continue to make contributions to the medical world well into their senior years, most will also experience the physical and mental issues that come with age. To prevent these issues from interfering with the safety and care of patients, some believe older physicians should be required to take fitness-for-duty competency evaluations.

Safety Concerns in Older Physicians

As more doctors choose to work into their twilight years, physical and mental issues can become safety concerns for patients. While very few argue that a mandatory retirement age is appropriate for physicians, many agree that hospitals should develop protocol for evaluating older medical staff.

The decline in physical and mental acuity that occurs in all of us as we age inevitably affects the nation's aging physicians. Doctors are susceptible to loss of hearing and eyesight, trouble concentrating and paying attention to the task at hand and even depression. Cognition also declines with age, with older doctors taking double the time as a younger physician to do the same mental tasks.

The Nation's Aging Medical Professionals

Many older physicians continue to work longer than expected due to the poor economy. In a recent survey, over half of physicians had changed their retirement plans to either continue working full time into their retirement years or work part-time.

As doctors make the decision to work beyond the retirement age, many recognize that the way they practice must adapt to changes in their bodies and mind. Some doctors acknowledge that they may not be able to work the long hours they used to in their younger days, while others may realize that they can no longer perform surgery safely and decide to take on more office-based work in their later years.

How Competency Evaluations Can Help

Some medical policymakers believe the most effective way to monitor the physical and mental competency of aging doctors is to conduct yearly and ongoing evaluations. Only five percent of hospitals have age policies for medical staff. Age policies may require doctors over a certain age to take an annual fitness-for-duty evaluation and perform various ongoing professional evaluations throughout the year.

Fitness-for-duty evaluations would help identify the physical and mental limitations older physicians have and allows hospitals and physicians to develop a plan to accommodate those limitations. For example, a physician who grows tired in the late afternoon and struggles to provide adequate care may cut down to just morning hours. A surgeon who develops tremors in his or her hands may wish to conduct only office visits.

Competency evaluations for aging doctors will help keep both patients and aging physicians safe and prevent medical errors. If you or a loved one has been injured due to a physical or mental limitation of an elderly doctor, please contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to explore your options.