Concerns for clinicians over 65 grow in the face of COVID-19


Among the 1.2 million practicing physicians in the United States, about 20% are aged 55-64 years and an estimated 9% are 65 years or older, according to the paper. Of the nation’s nearly 2 million registered nurses employed in hospitals, about 19% are aged 55-64 years, and an estimated 3% are aged 65 years or older.

“In some metro areas, this proportion is even higher,” Dr. Staiger said in an interview. “Hospitals and other health care providers should consider ways of utilizing older clinicians’ skills and experience in a way that minimizes their risk of exposure to COVID-19, such as transferring them from jobs interacting with patients to more supervisory, administrative, or telehealth roles. This is increasingly important as retired physicians and nurses are being asked to return to the workforce.”

Protecting staff, screening volunteers

Hematologist-oncologist David H. Henry, MD, said his eight-physician group practice at Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia, has already taken steps to protect him from COVID exposure.

Dr. David H. Henry is vice chair of the department of medicine and clinical professor of medicine at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, Philadelphia

Dr. David H. Henry

At the request of his younger colleagues, Dr. Henry, 69, said he is no longer seeing patients in the hospital where there is increased exposure risk to the virus. He and the staff also limit their time in the office to 2-3 days a week and practice telemedicine the rest of the week, Dr. Henry said in an interview.

“Whether you’re a person trying to stay at home because you’re quote ‘nonessential,’ or you’re a health care worker and you have to keep seeing patients to some extent, the less we’re face to face with others the better,” said Dr. Henry, who hosts the Blood & Cancer podcast for MDedge News. “There’s an extreme and a middle ground. If they told me just to stay home that wouldn’t help anybody. If they said, ‘business as usual,’ that would be wrong. This is a middle strategy, which is reasonable, rational, and will help dial this dangerous time down as fast as possible.”

On a recent weekend when Dr. Henry would normally have been on call in the hospital, he took phone calls for his colleagues at home while they saw patients in the hospital. This included calls with patients who had questions and consultation calls with other physicians.

“They are helping me and I am helping them,” Dr. Henry said. “Taking those calls makes it easier for my partners to see all those patients. We all want to help and be there, within reason. You want to step up an do your job, but you want to be safe.”

Peter D. Quinn, DMD, MD, chief executive physician of the Penn Medicine Medical Group, said safeguarding the health of its workforce is a top priority as Penn Medicine works to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This includes ensuring that all employees adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Penn Medicine infection prevention guidance as they continue their normal clinical work,” Dr. Quinn said in an interview. “Though age alone is not a criterion to remove frontline staff from direct clinical care during the COVID-19 outbreak, certain conditions such as cardiac or lung disease may be, and clinicians who have concerns are urged to speak with their leadership about options to fill clinical or support roles remotely.”

Dr. Nathaniel Hibbs, president of the Colorado American College of Emergency Physicians

Dr. Nathaniel Hibbs

Meanwhile, for states calling on retired health professionals to assist during the pandemic, thorough screenings that identify high-risk volunteers are essential to protect vulnerable clinicians, said Nathaniel Hibbs, DO, president of the Colorado chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

After Colorado issued a statewide request for retired clinicians to help, Dr. Hibbs became concerned that the state’s website initially included only a basic set of questions for interested volunteers.

“It didn’t have screening questions for prior health problems, comorbidities, or things like high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease – the high-risk factors that we associate with bad outcomes if people get infected with COVID,” Dr. Hibbs said in an interview.


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