A Canadian study published in the March issue of Anesthesiology found that there was a higher frequency of litigation and a greater severity of patient injury associated with those litigations when the anesthesiologist was 65 years of age or older.
“We observed a modest but significant increase in the rate of litigation against older anesthesiologists,” said Michael J. Tessler, M.D., lead study investigator. “More research is needed to confirm the finding of this study and, if true, identify the cause or causes of the increased rate of litigation so that the quality of clinical practices can be improved.”
In an accompanying editorial, Mark A. Warner, M.D., immediate past president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), urged his colleagues to look at the complete picture before coming to any sudden conclusions about older anesthesiologists’ ability to care for patients.
“Older physicians, including anesthesiologists, have developed a wealth of experiences during their years in practice that regularly benefit patients,” said Dr. Warner. “The study’s findings remind all physicians that they need to understand their practices, the changes that they personally will experience as they age and the value of working with colleagues to gain continuous feedback about their personal performance in patient care.”
Dr. Warner also recommends that it is important for all physicians to recognize their own attributes required to provide the best possible care to their patients. All physicians should be well rested and alert. They also should have sufficient time away from their practices to recharge and to be up-to-date with current knowledge and practices.
Dr. Warner added, “All physicians should know their personal limits and adjust their practices as they get older to best serve patients. For example, older physicians may choose to reduce the number of hours they work during the nighttime to ensure that they are well rested and alert when caring for patients.”
About the Study
Dr. Tessler and his team used billing data for all procedures performed by specialist anesthesiologists separated into three age groups, including: less than 51 years old, 51-64 years old and 65 years old and above. The data were from British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario for a 10-year period from January 1, 1993 through December 31, 2002. The team also examined all lawsuits handled by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), where the CMPA experts considered the anesthesiologist to be at least partially responsible for events and outcomes noted in the lawsuits.
“This is the first study to focus on this question,” said Dr. Tessler. “These findings help make anesthesiologists aware of the impact age may have on their work. However, no immediate changes in practice are required until the issue is examined more widely and confirmed in other environments.”
For more information, visit the Anesthesiology website at www.anesthesiology.org.