Why consider an age-based screening for physicians?

Despite their possession of seemingly supernatural healing powers, Physicians, like everyone else, are not immune are to the effects of the natural aging process.1 This includes decreasing physical strength and stamina and cognitive abilities including: decreased reaction time, decreased fine motor skills/dexterity, difficulty learning new concepts and skills, decreased comprehension of complex information, and decreased analytic processing.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), the total number of physicians 65 years and older more than quadrupled from 50,993 in 1975 to 241,641 in 2013.2 Additionally, physicians 65 and older currently represent 23 percent of physicians in the United States.1 Within this group, two-fifths (39.3 percent) are actively engaged in patient care.3

Unlike the airline industry, which requires biannual medical examinations of commercial pilots and mandatory retirement at age 65, Medicine does not require physicians to undergo regular medical examinations nor does it mandate when they must stop practicing. Instead, medicine relies mainly on physician self-regulation in recognizing physical or cognitive decline. This approach is flawed, however, as the impaired physician is often the last to know of his/her own impairment. As a result, many physicians may be practicing without realizing that their ability to deliver safe care has been compromised. As such, determining which individuals may pose a safety risk is the responsibility of those in the hospital or other medical setting.


References
  1. CME Report 5-A-15, Assuring Safe and Effective Care for Patients by Senior/Late Career Physicians, Council on Medical Education. American Medical Association.
  2. Smart DR. Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the US. American Medical Association. 2015 Ed.).
  3. Choudhry NK, Fletcher RH, Soumerai SB. Systematic review: the relationship between clinical experience and quality of health care. Ann Intern Med. 2005;142:260–273.