Is Your Doctor Age-Smart?
||Dr. Jodee Graifman Meddy, DO, MS, LNHA|
Co-founder of SeniorSite.com.
Dr. Jodee Meddy is a nationally acclaimed Doctor, Licensed Nursing Home Administrator and an expert on Long Term / Extended Care issues and Nursing Homes.
Medical needs grow more important as we age. It's crucial that doctors
treating older patients are skilled in the unique requirements of their
Basic medical tenets concerning diagnosis, treatment, medication, and
surgery change with older patients. For example, some patients who
demonstrate confusion and mental difficulties are often misdiagnosed--the
problem commonly is not a disease affecting the brain but chronic
According to a 1996 report published by the Alliance for Aging Research,
the United States has only one-third as many primary-care physicians with
specialty geriatric training as it needs. The report counted 6,784
internists, psychiatrists, and family practice physicians who have become
certified geriatricians. But the demands of 30 million older Americans
require that at least 20,000 physicians receive training in geriatrics. Only
14 of the United States' 126 medical schools require students to receive
William Cohen, former senator and chairman of the Senate Special Aging
Committee, now Secretary of Defense, said, ''This report sounds an important
warning that, in the face of a rapidly aging population, we are facing a
severe shortage of doctors trained to manage the special healthcare needs of
Although the report includes some alarming statistics, it is possible to
receive excellent healthcare from doctors who are well versed in the
specific needs of an aging population. It all depends on finding the right
So how do you find an excellent doctor? Reputation usually sells itself.
Ask friends and family who they see--although they may not be in a position
to judge medical competency, they can point you in the right direction. Or
consult the most reliable sources--other healthcare professionals. They may
not want to comment on the quality of particular doctors, but they should be
willing to tell you whom they see or to whom they'd send a sick relative.
Finding out if your doctor is "age-savvy" is similar to checking a
physician's credentials in any discipline. It requires that you ask
questions and conduct some research.
As the Alliance for Aging Research report states, not many doctors are
board-certified geriatric specialists, but it isn't necessary to be a
geriatrician to help older patients. A doctor may have continuing medical
education or have done research in disciplines that are age-specific.
Whatever the specialty, it's a good idea to check when the doctor was last
certified or recertified by a specialty board. To be board certified,
doctors in each specialty (including primary-care doctors such as family
physicians and general internists) must complete a training program and pass
a tough examination that requires up-to-date knowledge.
The best way to find out if your doctor is board certified is to call the
American Board of Medical Specialists in Evanston, Illinois at (800)
776-CERT. You'll need your doctor's name and the ZIP code he or she
Conduct your own examination
Once you've confirmed your doctor's credentials, the next steps in
determining his or her age-awareness are straightforward:
Ask your doctor how he or she completes the requirement for continuing
medical education. (This is especially important if a long time has passed
since training.) All states require that doctors earn a certain number of
continuing education credits by attending classes on recent medical
Find out if your doctor teaches or does research at a local medical
school. Medical school faculty members are more likely than community
doctors to have current knowledge, at least in the area of their specialty.
Get a second opinion. Finding out what another doctor thinks about your
problem can be an excellent way to assess your doctor's knowledge. Good
doctors shouldn't feel threatened by second opinions.
Educate yourself about your health. With expanding access to medical
information on the Web, patients now have more information available than
ever. Take advantage of it. The more you know about your health, the better
you'll be able to evaluate your doctor. You, as the patient, have some
Find out what experience your doctor has had treating conditions similar
to yours, as well as common conditions that affect older people.
Keeping healthy and seeking proper medical care are two of the best
things you can do for yourself. Most doctors, like most people, are
trustworthy. But it's still a good idea to learn what you can about your
doctor. You'll feel better knowing you've selected a top-notch professional.