By Stuart A. Bussey, M.D., J.D., UAPD President
As an aviation medical examiner I have had to give first class airline pilots the bad news that they are not medically eligible for their pilot license after they reach the age of 65. Fortunately, this mandatory retirement age does not apply to us physicians. But there is an increasing call to monitor older doctors in order to ensure patient safety. Sensory , motor and cognitive skills are prone to decrease in older physicians. In the general population between 3 and 11% of seniors develop dementia and the early signs are easy to miss. About 5% of hospitals have age based medical policies. Some are recommending that hospitals require annual renewal of privileges for those over 70 as a “fitness for duty” evaluation. And we are all too familiar with the Medical Board’s predilection for investigating older doctors.
As the recession lingers on an increasing number (20%) of older licensed doctors in the US continues to practice medicine. This issue bears increasing importance to the general public. Many Specialty Boards are responding by requiring more frequent recertification exams and continuing practice improvement modules. These exams and modules, however, do not apply to those “grandfathered” physicians who earned their initial boards before 1990. About a half of US hospitals require such recertification exams.