Journal scan

Doctors' age linked to mortality risk for older patients

Patients aged 65 or over treated by older doctors in US hospitals were slightly more likely to die than those treated by younger doctors, except when high volumes of patients were being treated, a study has found.

Patients aged 65 or over treated by older doctors in US hospitals were slightly more likely to die than those treated by younger doctors, except when high volumes of patients were being treated, a study has found

older docs
An exploratory study looked at links between older patients' mortality
and the doctor's age. Picture: iStock

Patients aged 65 or over treated by older doctors in US hospitals were slightly more likely to die than those treated by younger doctors, except when high volumes of patients were being treated, a study has found.

A team led by Yusuke Tsugawa at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston found that for every 77 such patients treated by doctors aged 60 or over, one fewer patient would have died within 30 days of admission if they had been cared for by a medic aged less than 40.

The researchers, who said their findings should be regarded as only exploratory, analysed 30-day mortality, readmissions and costs of care for a random sample of 736,537 Medicare patients aged 65 or over managed by 18,854 hospital physicians at US acute care hospitals from 2011 to 2014.

Skills and knowledge

They found patients’ 30-day mortality rates were 10.8% for doctors aged under 40, 11.1% for those aged 40-49, 11.3% for doctors aged 50-59, and 12.1% for doctors aged 60 and over.

Among medics with a high volume of patients, there was no association between the doctor’s age and patient mortality, the researchers said, suggesting preservation of clinical skills.

Readmissions did not vary with the doctor’s age, but costs of care were slightly higher for those treated by older medics.

The researchers said clinical skills and knowledge accumulated by more experienced doctors could lead to improved quality of care, but skills may become outdated as scientific knowledge, technology and clinical guidelines evolve.


Tsugawa Y et al (2017) Physician age and outcomes in elderly patients in hospital in the US: observational study. British Medical Journal 2017. doi:https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j1797.

This article is for subscribers only

Jobs