AMA: Evaluate older docs

The American Medical Association (AMA) has voted in favor of the creation of a process to screen and assess the competency of aging physicians', according to an announcement from last week's annual meeting.

Although the number of physicians older than 64 has quadrupled since 1975, there are currently no national mandates on how to ensure older physicians can still do their jobs safely, noted an article from the Associated Press.

"Physicians should be allowed to remain in practice as long as patient safety is not endangered," said the AMA's Council on Medical Education. The Council added that standards for monitoring both physicians' own and their colleagues' competency "may head off a call for mandatory retirement ages or imposition of guidelines by others."

The AMA disputes the notion that physicians are able to determine for themselves when it's time to retire, though not all physicians agree that fitness testing is necessary. "There are a lot of people overlooking my activities" already, William Nyhan, M.D., an 89-year-old pediatrician, told the AP. "This is a litigious society--if we were making mistakes, we'd be sued."

Some physicians also fight back against hospitals' age-based screening requirements. Stanford Health Care at Stanford University, for example, last year began requiring physicians aged 75 or older to undergo a performance evaluation as well as a comprehensive medical history and physical exam every two years, to catch age-related declines in physical and cognitive functioning that can affect professional performances.

"It's age discrimination," Frank Stockdale, M.D., a 79-year-old breast cancer expert who is leading the resistance to age-based testing, told the San Jose Mercury News. "If physician testing protects patients, why not test everybody?"

Nonetheless, the new AMA policy states that it will "identify organizations that should participate in the development of guidelines and methods of screening and assessment to assure that senior/late career physicians remain able to provide safe and effective care for patients." These organizations must then  "work together to develop preliminary guidelines for assessment of the senior/late career physician and develop a research agenda that could guide those interested in this field and serve as the basis for guidelines more grounded in research findings."

To learn more:
- here's the announcement
- read the article from the AP
- see the story from the San Jose Mercury News