Who should decide when senior physicians call it quits and retire from practicing medicine?

"Eighty-year-old practicing physician Dr. Jack Lewis poses for a photo in his office in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, June 4, 2015." (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

“Eighty-year-old practicing physician Dr. Jack Lewis poses for a photo in his office in Omaha, Neb., Thursday, June 4, 2015.” (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

A recent study published by the American Medical Association (“AMA”) considers their position in consideration of a question about competency testing for aging physicians. State medical boards might also opine whom might have the duty to inquire about aging physician competency in furtherance of the best interests of the health and welfare of state residents and consumers of healthcare services.

Competency to practice medicine is presumed at the time a physician is initially licensed, upon completing state required testing, residency requirements and so forth. Continuing education credits are required by the established regulating agencies, which furthers the presumption that a doctor is current with the latest advances in medicine and practice, when they keep up with required continuing education. If there are no incidents drawing attention to an individual’s skill and ability to perform a task, the assumption may fairly remain that competency is a constant.

Over time, some tend to slow down a little, but will we be able to recognize our own errors?

Many well skilled and experienced healthcare providers who practice without retiring, until the last days of their lives. Studies suggest active minds and bodies can perform well, without competency problems, as long as they live. Others, however, begin forgetting things or making mistakes later in life.

In a recent article discussing the AMA and the issue of competence of aging doctors, an 83 year-old, Dr. Jack Lewis offers his thoughts. “[He] has worked as an internal medicine specialist for half a century, first with his dad, who worked until age 83, and now with his 41-year-old physician son. “My dad always told me to watch to see if he was making mistakes or losing it, and my son is watching me the same way,” Lewis said. A new report by an American Medical Association council says doctors themselves should decide when one of their own needs to stop working.[i]

Sometimes mistakes are a product of an aging or forgetful mind. Length of time in practice and the increased access to a seemingly unending amount of information might cause anxiety in healthcare professionals. In any case, some doctors are in support of competency oversight, as brought up in a recent AMA meeting, and its association elected to take a hands off approach at the time.

“The AMA’s Council on Medical Education wrote the report and says “physicians should be allowed to remain in practice as long as patient safety is not endangered.” But physicians should develop guidelines and standards for monitoring and assessing both their own and their colleagues’ competency. Doing so “may head off a call for mandatory retirement ages or imposition of guidelines by others,” the council’s report says.[ii]

If a doctor makes mistakes that lead to patient injury, the question of competency might come up.

Just because a physician is senior in their career and a mistake happens, it does mean the individual should “hang up the stethoscope.” In the event you or a doctor you know receives an inquiry from the state, the law offices of Michael V. Favia & Associates can help advise and if necessary, represent Illinois doctors. Principal Michael V. Favia is also of counsel to law firms with coast to coast legal coverage in several states.

Michael V. Favia & Associates are available to help and meet for client consultations with offices conveniently located in the Chicago Loop, Northwest side and suburbs so you can schedule a discrete meeting with an attorney at your convenience and discretion. For more about Michael V. Favia & Associates’ professional licensing work, please visit www.IL-Licensing.com and feel free to “Like” the firm on Facebook and “Follow” the firm on Twitter.

[i] US News and World Report: Time to hang up the stethoscope? Aging doctors call for competency tests at AMA meeting, AP, Jun. 8, 2015.

[ii] See HNi above.

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