The Age Debate: Should Elderly Docs Be Evaluated in Fitness-of-Duty?
An article published in American Medical News (AMN) journal reported that hospitals may require physicians over the age of 65 to be evaluated for their fitness-for-duty. The evaluation would be intended to maintain patient safety by ensuring that elderly physicians are still practicing at their highest level.
The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) developed the evaluations because of the decline in quality care from elderly physicians. According to the ABMS, the evaluations would examine the state of an elderly physician’s physical and cognitive condition and monitor for any potential risks to patient care. The Burroughs Healthcare Consulting Network (BHCN) in New Hampshire is part of 5 percent of hospitals that have incorporated an annual review of a physician’s fitness-for-duty. Jonathan H. Burroughs, MD, president and CEO of BHCN said, “If someone’s starting to struggle, why not reach out to them and help them? …you can help extend the life of their practice, instead of allowing someone to fail and foreshorten their career.”
Orthopedic surgeon, Norman Dunitz, MD, told AMN that he recognized the limitations of his age when his eyesight and coordination began to weaken. At 70-years-old, Dr. Dunitz gave up practicing surgery and reduced the hours he spent at the hospital. According to James W. Lomax II, MD, senior author of a June 2009 American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry article, between 3 and 11 percent of people over the age of 70 develop dementia and the initial signs are easy to miss.
Hospitals have reported concerns that the fitness-for-duty evaluations may prompt age-discrimination. Dr. Dunitz, who has recently retired, said that it would be better to monitor the physical and mental capabilities of elderly physicians rather than push them into retirement.
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