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Who protects patients from a surgeon who’s too old to operate?

On Behalf of | Nov 3, 2022 | Medical Malpractice

Your primary care doctor refers you to a surgeon who specializes in the type of procedure you need. He seems knowledgeable, but you can’t help but notice that he is quite old. Not only that, but his hands shake a bit as he shuffles through some papers, and he takes off his glasses and squints as he reads your file on the computer.

Still, you assume that the hospital wouldn’t let him perform surgery if he wasn’t able to. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, until something goes wrong, nothing is done to keep elderly surgeons out of the operating room.

No mandatory retirement age

Surgeons, like all of us, have some loss of cognition, hearing, vision, balance and other functions as they age. Like everyone else, some experience a steeper decline than others. They can’t legally be forced to retire simply due to age any more than people in most other lines of work.

That means hospitals and other medical facilities have to ensure that their surgeons, like all of their doctors, are able to provide patients with the required standard of care. However, colleagues can be hesitant to report concerning behavior and many surgeons fail to recognize it in themselves. One surgeon says, “The public believes we police ourselves as a profession. We don’t, at least not very well.”

Required evaluations can help

Some hospitals are implementing required evaluation programs for surgeons when they reach a specified age. This can help them identify the relatively few who are no longer able to safely perform surgery – particularly long and/or intricate procedures. 

Of course, surgeons of all ages can make serious and harmful errors. It’s always important to find out how a mistake happened and who besides the surgeon themselves may have liability. If a hospital was aware – or should have been aware — that a surgeon wasn’t up to the job, they could be held liable as well. With experienced legal guidance, you can seek the compensation and justice you deserve from all the appropriate parties.