A recent study challenges the belief that experienced physicians make better doctors. Be your own advocate for better treatment by asking the right questions.
When a loved one’s health is at stake, a senior doctor with years of experience may seem like the best choice. Years of experience coupled with their expertise in research means that they are better prepared than junior doctors at handling complex cases. Or are they? As Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel wrote in the New York Times, that assumption, which many of us likely hold, could be faulty and even hazardous for your health.
Younger Doctors, Lower Mortality Rates
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at data from tens of thousands of hospital admissions, primarily from academic teaching hospitals, spanning nearly a decade. They found that when senior cardiologists were away from the hospital, many for national cardiology conferences, patients with acute life-threatening cardiac conditions were more likely to survive than when the same cardiologists were at the hospital. In fact, mortality rates decreased by almost a third.
It may seem counterintuitive that younger doctors with less experience would provide better care than senior physicians. Some theorize that the older doctors excel at teaching and research, while younger doctors are more “clinically adept.” Senior cardiologists are also more likely to try aggressive interventions, like stents, which can lead to health complications instead of improvements.
According to Slate, doctors ‘peak’ during middle age, and become less effective at saving lives as they age. A study from the University of Michigan analyzed over 460,000 thousands “complex” surgeries between 1998 and 1999 and found that patients with older surgeons were more likely to die during or after surgery.
The Four Questions to Ask Your Doctor
It should be noted that these findings don’t necessarily mean anything about an individual doctor and you shouldn’t be nervous about seeing an older physician. When it comes to your health, the best way to protect yourself is to ask the tough questions and be your own advocate. Dr. Emanuel recommends asking four questions before any procedure.
1. When your doctor wants to order a test, ask if the results will change their approach to your treatment. If the answer is no, the test may not be necessary.
2. If it does change their approach to treatment, then ask if that change is likely to quicken recovery or prolong your life.
3. Ask how likely is it that there will be side effects of the procedure and how severe will they be? If the procedure could result in serious, painful side effects, it may not be worth it.
4. It’s just as important to consider the hospital where you seek treatment. Ask yourself if the hospital is a teaching hospital. Overall, mortality rates are higher in non-teaching hospitals than they are in teaching hospitals, according to the JAMA study.
These questions might be uncomfortable, but having the facts is instrumental to making an informed decision.
Find the Right Doctor at the Right Price
When serious health issues arise, you want to focus your energy on finding the right doctor who will answer your difficult questions, and the right hospital where you’ll get the best care. What you don’t want to focus on is the price, especially if you have limited or no health insurance.
With SingleCare, you can find the best doctors to get the right answers regarding your health. It’s free to join and members can save up to 50% compared to out of pocket costs. SingleCare is also transparent about its prices, so you’ll know the exact cost ahead of time and won’t get hit with hidden fees. No one should have to choose between their health and their budget.
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