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When Surgeon's Age Becomes A Risk Factor Is The Hospital Liable?

Age is one of the protected classes under state and federal employment laws. Discriminating against someone based on their age is a violation of his or her labor rights, but is there a point when age really does become a risk factor? For instance, when a surgeon's hands aren't as steady anymore, when a radiologists eyes aren't able to read an X-ray quite as clearly or a physician's memory fails them when they are writing a prescription for a patient that reported specific allergies. In the medical field, these failures could result in serious or even fatal mistakes, and it is the patient that will pay the price. A nurse recently wrote in to a columnist describing the tough position she found herself in. As an employee of the hospital, she wasn't quite sure how to handle the situation. She had seen a specific surgeon make mistakes that could be very harmful to a patient. She stressed her frustration in the letter both with the surgeon himself as well as with the hospital -- or as she called them the "powers that be." This nurse wrote that she had reported the physician's failures, noting her concerns about patient safety. Writing to the advice column was her last straw, her last cry for assistance. She ended the letter with "Please help me be the patient's advocate that I was trained to be!" The columnist responded with her opinion about how the nurse should handle the situation, giving advice about the chain of reporting and how to collect evidence to support and corroborate her claims. This blog post isn't about judging that specific advice. Instead, our Harrisburg medical malpractice law blog asks a different question. Who is liable when an aging surgeon does make a mistake? Would it be considered hospital negligence to ignore the concerns raised by a nurse, fellow surgeon or patient? Source: Medscape, "How Should I Report an 'Aging' Surgeon?" Carolyn Buppert, Feb. 24, 2014

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