You may be going to the same doctor for decades, but a new Harvard study suggests you’re likely to live longer when treated by someone under 40.
The study, which was recently published in the British Medical Journal, looked at more than 700,000 patients in the U.S. being treated by 18,854 doctors between the years of 2011 and 2014, USA Today reports.
The study adds all of the patients were 65 or older and on Medicare — a federal health insurance program for people over 65 in the U.S.
The research found for a patient’s 30-day mortality rate, it was 10.8 per cent when they were treated by someone under 40, and 12.1 per cent for doctors aged 60 and older.
The study concluded: “Within the same hospital, patients treated by older physicians had higher mortality than patients cared for by younger physicians, except those physicians treating [a] high volumes of patients.”
Does age matter?
Dr. Geneviève Moineau, president and CEO of The Association of Faculties of Medicine Of Canada says at the end of the day, regardless of age, the most important thing a physician can do is maintain their competence.
“Our Canadian medical education system is set up [in a way] that physicians must maintain their competence. You can’t have hospital privileges if you are not demonstrating this to authorities,” she tells Global News.
She adds it is also important for all doctors to maintain their well-being and continuing to work with other health-care providers and physicians to learn and grow.
“Every physician who wants to work in a hospital in Canada has to demonstrate that you are taking courses, reviewing your cases and you are learning new techniques and medications,” she says.
Perception of older doctors
Speaking to CBS News, study author Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa said many patients have the perception that older doctors give a better quality of care.
“But previous studies, multiple studies, have shown that younger doctors have more aptitude. We found those treated by younger doctors had significantly lower mortality compared with those treated by older doctors,” he told the site.
But Moineau adds other studies have also shown increased age could result in improved care, and how in some industries like obstetrics, some research has shown slightly older physicians performed better.
Tsugawa continued that older doctors have experience, but younger doctors have more current clinical knowledge.
“Medical technologies are evolving all the time and it might be harder for older doctors to keep up with the evidence. And new guidelines are updated every five to 10 years. Newer doctors train based on the newest evidence and skills and technologies. Therefore, they may be more up-to-date when they start providing care,” he said.
Tsugawa notes while this doesn’t mean everyone should look for younger doctors, the research was intended to look at how training differs for different physician age groups.
How to find a family doctor
According to BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, there is a shortage of family doctors in Canada which can make it difficult for some to find one.
The centre suggests asking a walk-in clinic if they’re accepting patients and putting yourself on a wait list for a doctor you may want — you can also ask family and friends about their own experiences.
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You can even try contacting a university, the site notes — most institutes have teaching units by family doctors in their final years of training, plus their teachers.
Moineau says people can also search a doctor’s name on the College of Physicians and Surgeons website of their specific province (if available). The provincial sites allow you to see if the doctor is open to accepting new patients and if they had any issues with the college.
And while sites like RateMDs are easily accessible, Moineau says they are often anecdotal reviews of the physician.
“What you can get from that is what certain patients have appreciated, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you if the care they received was a good standard of care.”