Younger physicians linked to more patient complaints than older colleagues

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Younger ophthalmologists were more likely to receive patient complaints than their older colleagues, according to a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology.

The study gathered data from 1,342 attending ophthalmologists or neuro-ophthalmologists who graduated medical school before 2010. The physicians came from 20 healthcare organizations that participate in Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Patient Advocacy Reporting System, a database of complaints and physician specialty data.

Physicians were divided into five 10-year age groups. The age groups began with physicians who graduated before 1970, who were assigned ages greater than 70 years, through physicians who graduated between 2000-09, who were assigned ages 31 through 40 years. The median physician age was 47 years and 9 percent of physicians were 71 years or older. 

Researchers measured the rate of complaints over time by physician age using patient complaints registered between 2002-15 in Vanderbilt's reporting system. The results revealed that increasing physician age was associated with a decreased risk of receiving an unsolicited patient complaint.

The youngest physicians of the group were linked to the shortest time until a first complaint was received, and they were significantly more likely to receive a complaint than older physicians. 

Ophthalmologists older than 70 years had the lowest complaint rate.

Limitations of the study included the chance that the participating organizations did not complete their data collection. However, the study authors noted Vanderbilt's Center for Patient and Professional Advocacy provided benchmarks for organizations to minimize this possibility. "Although limitations in the study design could affect the interpretation of these conclusions, the findings may have practical implications for patient safety, clinical education, and clinical practice management," the authors wrote. 

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