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Why Doctors May Have That Fatal Touch

If you read my blog regularly, I often refer to the 2000 piece, Doctors Are the Third Leading Cause of Death. Over the past five years, various studies have shown doctors may actually be the leading cause of death in this country. New research by the Harvard Medical School has found as good a reason as any for this dramatic climb.

An analysis of 62 studies conducted over the past four decades found the quality of care doctors provide their patients was related to their experience and age, meaning the older they are the harder it is for them to keep up. Connecting the dots:

  • Older doctors were less likely to use proper medications to treat heart attacks or adopt other evidence-based treatments in some 75 percent of the studies.
  • A 2000 study of internists, cardiologists and family doctors reported patient mortality increased 0.5 percent for every year after a physician graduated from medical school.

Why is this happening? Some experts blame it on an explosion of medical knowledge and an inability of continuing medical education to help physicians stay current. Also, many courses are held in pricey resort areas (think Maui or Aspen), according to the American Board of Internal Medicine, which often consist of sessions in which doctors doze off while taking notes.

In all fairness, doctors aren't entirely to blame for these problems. I believe the entire modern health care system is at fault for fueling, even promoting, so many new and unnecessary procedures and drugs that create an environment in which all these toxic and sometimes fatal mishaps can happen. Research like this illustrates precisely why the existing health care system is so desperately in need of change, and why facilitating dynamic change in this flawed paradigm will continue to be such a substantial portion of my vision.

Annals Of Internal Medicine February 15, 2005, Volume 142 Issue 4, pgs.260-273 (free full text article)

Washington Post February 22, 2005

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