Carney is not alone. A 2005 study conducted by the Harvard Medical School and published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that the older a doctor is, the less likely he or she may be to provide patients with the most up-to-date care. Relying on skill sets honed long ago, these doctors are far slower to adopt new standards of care; for example, less invasive surgery options for early-stage breast cancer patients.
The study also showed that doctors who graduated 20 years ago or longer are more than 40 percent less likely than their younger counterparts to offer preventative cancer screenings widely endorsed by the American Cancer Society as well as the National Cancer Institute. Older doctors also may not correctly diagnose or treat depression and anxiety, or adequately counsel their patients in emergency contraception.
Despite these findings, it's unwise to simply dismiss or blindly trust a physician based on his or her age. So what can we, as patients, do to ensure we are receiving the best possible care?
Dr. Robert Fletcher, MD, co-author of the Harvard study, recommends that patients educate themselves about symptoms or general health concerns before seeing their doctors. "Preventative care guidelines are widely available to patients on the Web," he says. "Before seeing your doctor, do some research to find out what preventative care services are recommended for people your age and gender, with your family history and lifestyle."
Dr. Fletcher says that a little bit of research can open the door to asking the right questions, allowing you to take full advantage of your time with your doctor. And if he or she isn't willing to address your concerns or quickly dismisses your questions? It may be time for you to start looking for a new doctor.