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Older anesthesiologists more likely to face litigation
National data shows that anesthesiologists over the age of 65 face lawsuits one-and-a-half times more frequently than younger colleagues
Montreal, February 22, 2012 – While stressing that cases are few and far between, a study of malpractice litigation against anesthesiologists in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia over a ten-year period (1993-2002) revealed that those over the age of 65 were one-and-a-half times more likely to be sued by patients than their younger colleagues. Moreover, the degree of injury at issue was likely to be of greater severity. The study is being published in the March 2012 issue of Anesthesiology.
“I think it is reasonable to acknowledge physiological changes as we age that can have an effect on our professional performance,” said Dr. Michael Tessler, an anaesthesiologist at the Jewish General Hospital and Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at McGill University, who co-authored the paper with Drs. Ian Shrier and Russell Steele, both of the Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Community Medicine at the Lady Davis Institute. “At the same time, we mustn’t discount the great wealth of experience and pattern recognition that only older anesthesiologists can draw upon to recognize potential problems with which they may contend during the course of a surgery.”
Overall, the most frequent cases for litigation against anesthesiologists involve minor events, such as cracked teeth resulting from their efforts to establish an airway. It is essential to note that litigation rates are extremely low, with roughly 2% of anesthesiologists facing legal action in any given year – or 50 cases annually out of millions of procedures.
This is the first national study to explore age as an associated factor for litigation. The underlying causes for its findings were not determined, but the authors suggest the issue ought to be pursued in further research.
“There is reason to believe that age may be a factor for litigation in all medical specialities,” said Dr. Tessler, who is fifty-five, and has been an anaesthesiologist for twenty-five years. “This is not an argument for mandatory retirement, by any means. However, it could be cause for practitioners to think seriously about whether they, as individuals, remain competent to provide the quality of care that their patients deserve. We would simply urge older physicians to be aware that time may take a toll on their capabilities, and to be honest about themselves.”
For further information, and to arrange interviews, contact:
Research Communications Officer
Lady Davis Institute
Tel.: 514-340-8222 x 8661
For more about the Lady Davis Institute: www.ladydavis.ca
For more about the Jewish General Hospital: www.jgh.ca