Traditional lore says we get wiser as we get older. In a clinical setting, that means you would expect older doctors to make smarter decisions. So it is surprising that research published in the Harvard Business Review seems to show the opposite.
A team led by Yusuke Tsugawa, research associate at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, found patients treated by older physicians “experienced statistically significantly higher mortality rates” than those cared for by younger doctors.
The finding conjures up images of creaky old medics dithering over their diagnoses, but a closer look at the data reveals a different picture. Among doctors who get to see more than 200 patients a year, there is no age difference in patient outcomes.
In other words, if a doctor has a low patient load then a younger medic, fresh out of residency training and with up-to-date knowledge of the latest techniques and technologies, may deliver better care than an older professional whose training is far behind them.
However, with a healthy workload this is no longer the case: ongoing experience, not age, is the critical factor for patient outcomes. This idea is backed up by a study from 2003 that shows surgeon patient volumes are inversely related to operative mortality.
The finding is important for radiology because it implies that being exposed to a higher volume of similar cases, for example through sub-specialisation, could help maintain reporting quality as the average age of radiologists increases.
Plus it dispels the idea that older professionals will automatically lose their touch. With access to a steady stream of sub-specialist cases, there may be no reason why the old guard shouldn’t continue to perform just as well as the best of the profession’s new entrants.
o How are reporting volumes helping you keep your skills up as an older radiologist? Let us know.