Physician age and outcomes in elderly patients in hospital in the US: observational study

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Abstract

Objectives

To investigate whether outcomes of patients who were admitted to hospital differ between those treated by younger and older physicians.

Design

Observational study.

Setting

US acute care hospitals.

Participants

20% random sample of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries aged ≥65 admitted to hospital with a medical condition in 2011-14 and treated by hospitalist physicians to whom they were assigned based on scheduled work shifts. To assess the generalizability of findings, analyses also included patients treated by general internists including both hospitalists and non-hospitalists.

Main outcome measures

30 day mortality and readmissions and costs of care.

Results

736 537 admissions managed by 18 854 hospitalist physicians (median age 41) were included. Patients' characteristics were similar across physician ages. After adjustment for characteristics of patients and physicians and hospital fixed effects (effectively comparing physicians within the same hospital), patients' adjusted 30 day mortality rates were 10.8% for physicians aged <40 (95% confidence interval 10.7% to 10.9%), 11.1% for physicians aged 40-49 (11.0% to 11.3%), 11.3% for physicians aged 50-59 (11.1% to 11.5%), and 12.1% for physicians aged ≥60 (11.6% to 12.5%). Among physicians with a high volume of patients, however, there was no association between physician age and patient mortality. Readmissions did not vary with physician age, while costs of care were slightly higher among older physicians. Similar patterns were observed among general internists and in several sensitivity analyses.

Conclusions

Within the same hospital, patients treated by older physicians had higher mortality than patients cared for by younger physicians, except those physicians treating high volumes of patients.

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