Experienced Doctors Linked With More Bad Outcomes

Surprisingly, sicker patients treated by very experienced physicians—doctors in practice for at least 20 years—tended to do worse than patients treated by doctors fairly new to the profession, according to a new study.

Reuters, citing the just-published American Journal of Medicine study, said that patients treated with established doctors tended to have longer hospital stays and were likelier to die, versus patients treated by doctors who received their medial license within the past five years.

The study was conducted by Dr. William Southern and his colleagues, and involved a review of over 6,500 patients who were hospitalized between 2002 and 2004 at New York City’s Montefiore Medical Center, said Reuters. A teaching hospital where patients are seen first by a junior physician who then assigns the patients to a medical team, Montefiore provided an effective environment for the study. The hospital manages six medical teams, each comprised of one medical student; recent graduates; and the attending, or senior, doctor, explained Reuters.

The study looked at 59 attending physicians, who were broken down by years in practice: 5 years and under, 6 to 10 years, 11 to 20 years, and over 20 years, said Reuters. The study only looked at how the physicians handled new patient-doctor relationships to ensure a more balanced review. The review, said Reuters, revealed that the most experienced physicians had more hospital fatalities.

Initially, the more experienced doctors were linked to in excess of a 70 percent likelihood of dying in the hospital, a 50 percent increase of death was seen within 30 days, said Reuters. A more in-depth review found that when considering the patients’ illnesses, the sickest patients saw the greatest risks under the care of the most experienced physicians, according to Reuters.

The number of patients treated by experienced doctors affected results. When less busy, said Reuters, physicians kept patients hospitalized for about the same average time, regardless of their experience. When doctors saw many patients, those with the most experience kept patients hospitalized an average of a-half day longer than doctors practicing for the shortest amount of time. Similar results were seen in prior studies of a variety of medical specialties.

The study suggests that doctors who are more than 2 decades out of medical school receive periodic recertification beyond ongoing continuing medical education programs which are voluntary and separate from the recertification processes, explained Reuters.

Dr. Steven Weinberger, executive vice president and CEO of the American College of Physicians, pointed out that “It is important for physicians to stay as current as possible,” reported Reuters.

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