Does physician age influence the likelihood of patient complaints?
Bottom Line: Older ophthalmologists were less likely than younger colleagues to be associated with patient complaints.
Why The Research Is Interesting: Unsolicited patient complaints (UPCs) are a chance for physicians and health care systems to learn what patients perceive to be wrong in their health care encounter.. Understanding factors associated with complaints might point to ways to improve encounters and patient experiences.
What and When: Investigators measured the rate of complaints over time by physician age using patient complaints registered between 2002-2015 in Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Patient Advocacy Reporting System (PARS), a database of complaints and physician specialty data.
Who: 1,342 attending ophthalmologists or neuro-ophthalmologists who graduated from medical school before 2010 at 20 U.S. health care organizations participating in PARS. Physicians were divided into five age groups from 31 to older than 70.
How (Study Design): This is an observational study. Because researchers are not intervening for purposes of the study they cannot control natural differences that could explain the study findings.
Authors: William O. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, and coauthors.
Results: Rates of patient complaints seemed to decrease with physician age.
Study Limitations: Potentially incomplete data collection at participating health care facilities, but the Vanderbilt Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy provides benchmarks and targets for institutions to minimize this possibility.
Study Conclusions: Younger ophthalmologists seemed more likely than older colleagues to be associated with patient complaints. System efforts at clinical education and practice management to address complaints might focus on these ophthalmologist groups.
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