Do the Elderly Need to be Protected From Their Doctors?

Patients often make the mistake of believing they can place their full confidence and trust in the skill and knowledge of their medical providers, many times not realizing that neglect or medical malpractice can be fairly common, especially among the elderly.

A study published online last May in the medical journal Injury Prevention found that one in five Medicare patients suffered an injury from medical treatment not related to their underlying condition. The study drew attention to outpatient care, citing that most of the malpractice happened in doctors’ offices, clinics, surgery centers and nursing homes, with one-third occurring in hospitals.

Researchers noted that the more delicate the health of the patient, the more likely it was that he or she would experience a medical injury during treatment. They found that elderly patients were often more vulnerable to being given the wrong medications or receiving treatments that could induce allergic reactions or additional complications, adding to their previously existing underlying illnesses or problems.

The study also drew attention to complications that go hand-in-hand with medical malpractice–death rates are estimated to double when additional injuries occur with the elderly, along with increased health care costs due to extended and comprehensive follow-up treatment.

The focus of this study is to recognize the cause of unnecessary medical injuries that elderly patients are experiencing. It is also a wake-up call for members of the health care profession on the need to be educated in geriatric medicine, and understand that the elderly, because they are more vulnerable than healthy young adults, need a greater degree of care and protection when receiving medical treatment.