Aging surgeons could endanger patients

A study published in this month's issue of the Annals of Surgery calls into question whether older surgeons should be allowed to continue practicing medicine. With aging comes decreased fine motor skills, worse eyesight and less stamina--all of which are key skills for surgeons. The study found that surgeons over 65 had higher patient death rates than younger surgeons, did not perform as well on recertification exams and were less likely to know about new treatments and techniques. The study's authors go on to suggest that maintaining a full caseload keeps older surgeons from becoming rusty; practice makes perfect, so reducing the number of surgeries performed isn't a good approach for handling the problem. The findings apply to only three types of surgeries: pancreas removals, heart bypasses and surgery to clear blocked carotid arteries. The study has rather serious implications, considering that an increasing proportion of surgeons are over the age of 65 (18 percent in 2004). That number is likely to climb in the coming years.

For more on the study:
- read this AP report