Commentary

Age competency exams for physicians – yes or no?


 

There are certain programs, like in San Diego, for example, where physicians are referred, and so there’s a selection bias. But this was just general screening. It’s worrisome. I’m an aging physician myself. I want fairness in this process because I’m going to be assessed as well.

I just don’t really understand yet why there’s so much circling of the wagons and so much resistance. It seems like it would be good for physicians also to be removed from situations where they might get into potential litigation because of mistakes and physical or visual impairment. It seems like it’d be good for patients and physicians alike.

Dr. Glatter: It’s difficult to give up your profession, change fields, or become administrative at some point, and [decide] when to make that transition. As we all get older, we’re not going to have the ability to do what we did in our 20s, 30s, and so forth.

Dr. Jauhar: Much of the resistance is coming from doctors who are used to high levels of autonomy. I’m certainly sympathetic to that because I don’t want anyone telling me how to practice. The reason this is coming up and hasn’t come up in the past is not because of loss of autonomy but because of an actual demographic change. Many physicians were trained in the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s. They’re getting to retirement age but they’re not retiring, and we can speculate as to why that is.

In America’s educational system, doctors incur a huge amount of debt. I know physicians who are still paying off their debt and they’re in their 50s and 60s, so I’m very sympathetic to that. I’m not trying to force doctors out of practicing. I just want whoever is practicing to be competent and to practice safely. We have to figure out how to do that.

Dr. Glatter: The fact that there is a shortage of physicians forecast in the next 10-15 years makes many physicians reluctant to retire. They feel like they want to be part of that support network and we don’t want to have a dire situation, especially in the rural areas. We’re not immune from aging. We’re human beings. We all have to realize that.

Dr. Jauhar: I know that the ACC is starting to debate this issue, in part because of my op-ed. My hope is that it will start a conversation and we will institute a plan that comes from physicians and serves our patients, and doesn’t serve some cottage industry of testing or serve the needs of insurers or bureaucrats. It has to serve the doctor-patient relationship.

Dr. Glatter: In some random surveys that I’ve read, up to 30%-40% of physicians do support some type of age-based screening or competency assessment. The needle’s moving. It’s just not there yet. I think that wider adoption is coming.

Dr. Jauhar: Data are coming as more hospitals start to adopt these late practitioner programs. Some of the data that came out of Yale, for example, are very important. We’re going to see more published data in this area, and it will clarify what we need to do and how big the problem is.

Dr. Glatter: I want to thank you again for your time and for writing the op-ed because it certainly was well read and opened the eyes of not only physicians, but also the public at large. It’s a conversation that has to be had. Thank you for doing this.

Dr. Jauhar: Thanks for inviting me, Robert. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Dr. Glatter is assistant professor of emergency medicine, department of emergency medicine, at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y. Dr. Jauhar is director of the heart failure program, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, N.Y. Neither Dr. Glatter nor Dr. Jauhar reported any relevant conflicts of interest.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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