Age bias influences 80-year-olds' heart attack care, study suggests

Age may subconsciously play a role in cardiologists' treatment decisions for heart attack patients, according to a new study cited by STAT.

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed 2006-12 Medicare data for more than 9,000 heart attack patients hospitalized two weeks before or after their 80th birthday, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Researchers found 7 percent of patients nearing their 80th birthday received bypass surgery, compared to 5.3 percent of patients who just turned 80. This trend was only seen among patients nearing the milestone of 80.

Researchers said these findings are an example of "left-digit bias," best demonstrated by the perception that $4.99 is cheaper than $5, even though the cost is nearly the same.

The findings suggest that cardiologists subconsciously assume patients who are 80 are frailer and more at risk of surgical complications.

"Studies like this are really to show physicians, 'Here's a common mistake or error that people make,'" study author Andrew Olenski, a PhD student at Columbia University in New York City, told STAT. "This is not to say, 'You should now be giving a lot more bypass surgeries to 80-year-olds than you would have."

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