Mortality higher among patients treated by older doctors, study indicates

Updated: 

Patients treated by older doctors are more likely to die than those treated by younger physicians, a new study suggests.

A US study found that patients treated by older medics had higher mortality than patients cared for by younger ones - but the finding did not hold true for older doctors who treat large volumes of patients.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, examined 736,537 hospital admissions at US acute care hospitals from 2011 to 2014.

These patients, aged 65 or older, were managed by 18,854 hospital physicians with a mean age of 41.

The team of US-based researchers analysed the association between physician age and whether a patient died within 30 days.

They found that for every 77 patients treated by doctors aged over 60, one fewer patient would die within 30 days of admission if those patients were cared for by physicians under the age of 40.

They found that patients' 30 day mortality rates were:

:: 10.8% for doctors aged under 40;

:: 11.1% for medics aged 40-49;

:: 11.3% for physicians aged 50-59;

:: 12.1% for doctors aged over 60. 

To test whether physicians with high volumes of patients might better maintain clinical knowledge and skills, the team also analysed whether the association between physician age and patient mortality was altered by the number of patients each doctor treated.

They found that among doctors with a high volume of patients there was no association between physician age and patient mortality.

This suggests that treating large numbers of patients could be "protective" of clinical skills.

The researchers stressed that their finding should be regarded as exploratory.

But they concluded: "Within the same hospital, patients treated by older physicians had higher mortality than patients cared for by younger physicians, except those physicians treating high volumes of patients."