December 12, 2012
The University of Virginia Health System is one of a handful of hospitals that is starting to test older doctors to make sure they're still sharp. They test the bodies and minds of doctors once they reach 70 years old.
Commercial airline pilots aren't allowed to fly after age 65, but for doctors there is no required retirement age. According to the American Medical Association, 21 percent of American doctors are still practicing past the standard retirement age.
Dr. Christopher Alexander, Social Security Disabilities Medical Expert and retired Internal Medicine Doctor, said, "One of the hardest things for physicians to do is quit. When they reach a point where their performance may endanger patients, then somebody has to step in and say now look."
UVa has adopted a policy that helps doctors stay on point as they age. Once a physician turns 70, they must have an exam that evaluates their physical and mental abilities. Once they reach 75, it becomes an annual test.
UVa Professor of Internal Medicine, Dr. John Owen, retired at 74 to enjoy his golden years. He's seen plenty of doctors who should have retired sooner than they did.
"In my own family and in a lot of professional acquaintances have seen people who should be retired but they hadn't made up their mind and their professional performance is suffering from it," said, Dr. Owen. "I think it will change the medical field positively in that, older doctors, like all human beings, have a tendency to take it easy on themselves and they don't push themselves as much."
Dr. Owen and Dr. Alexander agree the tests will benefit both the doctors and the patients.
"In many ways the doctors personality and his rapport with his patients is as good as ever but it's his judgement," said Owen.
"This is sort of a painless, hopefully, less embarrassing, official way to head off a catastrophe," said Alexander.
The Newsplex checked with Martha Jefferson and they don't require physical exams, but do make doctors over 70 years old to get re-credentialed every year, instead of every two years.