Older Anesthesiologists Are Sued More Often Than Younger Counterparts

Great caution is required of anyone in the field of anesthesiology. Too little anesthesia, and a patient could consciously endure a horribly painful procedure, risking shock; too much, and the patient could face grievous, permanent injury, or even death.

Anesthesia errors are relatively rare, but when they do occur, the results are often devastating. According to a new study, one particular group of anesthesiologists may pose an especially acute risk to their patients.

More Lawsuits, More Serious Injury Among Patients of Anesthesiologists Over 65

A new report published in the medical journal Anesthesiology assessed billing and malpractice data over a ten year period for all specialist anesthesiologists working in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario. The anesthesiologists studied were grouped into three categories: those under the age of 51, those aged 51 to 64 years and those over the age of 65.

When adjusted for exposure (how often an anesthesiologist puts him- or herself at risk of malpractice by taking on a procedure), older anesthesiologists significantly underperformed younger practitioners. The 51 to 64 age group was somewhat more likely to be sued for malpractice, but the real surprise came in the 65 plus category: these anesthesiologists were approximately 1.5 times more likely to be responsible for litigation compared to their colleagues under the age of 51.

Not only were older anesthesiologists more likely to be sued for a mistake, a more severe degree of injury was consistently identified in claims against older anesthesiologists. Surprisingly, this was true even though older anesthesiologists were found to be involved in fewer moderate and high complexity cases.

What Causes Higher Risk For Older Anesthesiologists?

The study was meant only to expose the issues surrounding older anesthesiologists, and did not explore the reasons for discrepancies in the incidence of malpractice. Still, the authors hypothesized that a variety of factors associated with older age, including easier fatigability resulting in reduced vigilance, longer response time, poorer communication skills and deficient continuing medical education, could play a role.

In addition, while older anesthesiologists are more likely to be sued, the authors of the study noted that they've been found to be less stressed by liability concerns than younger anesthesiologists. Whether a subdued apprehension of medical malpractice liability could cause anesthesiologists to be less cautious in their work remains open for debate.

When an Anesthesiologist's Mistake Harms You or Your Family, You Need Legal Help

Whatever their age, anesthesiologists have a duty to see to the safety of their patients. If their abilities are deteriorating, they have a responsibility to take a hard look at the potential risk they are creating.

If you have been injured by the error of an anesthesiologist, or if a family member has been killed, you deserve fair compensation. Talk to a medical malpractice attorney today to find out how you can hold negligent anesthesiologists accountable.