Older surgeons have lower patient death rates: Study

April 26 (UPI) — Surgeons older than 50 have lower patient death rates than their younger counterparts, according to a new analysis of medical records.

Researchers reviewed medical records for 892,187 Medicare patients aged 65-99 who had one of 20 common types of emergency surgery performed by one of 45,826 surgeons between 2011 and 2014. The study, led by Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, an assistant professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, was published this week in BMJ.

While age was a clear indicator, the researchers found no difference in mortality rates based upon sex.

“Despite strong interest in improving the quality of surgical care, the association between surgeons’ characteristics — especially the age and sex of surgeons — and patients’ outcomes has not been well understood,” the researchers wrote. “Some people assume that surgical performance will improve over the course of a surgeon’s career through an accumulation of skills and experience, but others worry that a decline may occur at some point owing to deterioration of dexterity associated with aging or to changes in clinical management facilitated by evolving technology and new guidelines.”

Researchers also said there is concern that tighter restrictions on training hours during the residencies of younger surgeons might negatively affect skills later.

For the study, the researchers focused on patients who were less likely to have selected their surgeons and surgeons who were less likely to have selected their patients.

In the data, researchers found mortality rates were 6.6 percent for surgeons aged 40 and younger, 6.5 percent for surgeons between the ages of 40 and 49 years old, 6.4 percent for surgeons between the ages of 50 and 59 years and 6.3 percent for surgeons age 60 and older.

Mortality rates were relatively similar between genders, with female surgeons carrying a 6.3 percent rate and male surgeons having a 6.5 percent rate. When comparing male and female surgeons across age groups, female surgeons in their 50s had the lowest patient mortality rate at 6 percent.

“Our finding that younger surgeons have higher mortality suggests that more oversight and supervision early in surgeons’ post-residency career may be useful and warrants further empiric investigation,” the researchers wrote.

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