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Geriatricians, or geriatric physicians, provide care and treatment for conditions affecting the elderly. These doctors work to improve their patient’s standard of living and to help their patients function independently for as long as possible.
Currently there are about 7,500 board certified geriatricians in the United States.
Educational Requirements To Practice Geriatric Medicine
Geriatricians, like all doctors, are required to graduate from medical school. To become a geriatrician, students must earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) from an accredited medical school. Doctors are then required to specialize in geriatrics before becoming a geriatrician.
After graduation from medical school, doctors must become licensed to practice medicine by whichever state they plan to practice medicine. Licensing requirements vary by state. A state license enables a doctor to practice any type of medicine in the state, but does not serve as qualification for specific types of medicine like geriatrics.
To become a geriatrician, doctors will need to complete a three-year residency program. This can be completed in a number of fields that relate to geriatrics, but most geriatric doctors will complete their residencies in internal medicine.
After completing a residency, doctors must complete a one to two year fellowship in geriatrics that will include experience working in nursing homes, hospices, in and outpatient centers, and at other healthcare settings where elderly are treated.
Board certification is an important step most doctors take to demonstrate expertise in a field of medicine. Geriatricians attain certification through either the American Board of Family Medicine, or the American Board of Internal Medicine.
Where Geriatricians Work
Geriatricians can work in a variety of settings including nursing homes, hospitals, doctor offices, clinics, hospices, and rehabilitation centers. They may also provide in-home care to their patients.
How They Help People
While family or primary care physicians can treat elderly patients, geriatric physicians have a better understanding of the aging process and the complete needs of an elderly patient. Geriatricians will treat physical, mental, and emotional conditions in their patients with an emphasis on increasing the quality of life and independent functioning ability of their patients.
Geriatric physicians understand that elderly patients face unique medical conditions and psychological concerns. In addition to treating current medical conditions of elderly patients, these specialized doctors will help their patients and family of their patients plan for long-term care needs. On average, seniors have over 10 health care visits and see multiple medical specialists each year. This can leave the patient with a number of treatment plans. Geriatricians can act as the primary care physician for their patients and can coordinate treatments plans across specializations.
Geriatricians will also provide counsel to the patient and their family about psychological effects of aging which can include isolation, depression, and anxiety. Geriatric doctors are also familiar with legal and economic issues surrounding care and life quality for their patients. These doctors will act as the health care advocate for their patients.
Conditions that a geriatrician can treat include:
- Chronic pain
- Memory loss
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Heart disease
- Negative medication side effects
- Emotional difficulties and mental health issues
- Discussing options for assisted care
Geriatricians can treat a range of conditions but for some particularly complex medical issues, such as cancer, they will refer their patients to specialists for additional care. Their role then is to coordinate treatments among their patient’s different doctors.
Geriatricians are becoming more in demand as the population of the US rapidly ages. By 2050, elderly adults (age 65 and older) are expected to make up over 20% of the entire population.
Medical Negligence and Geriatricians
Geriatricians care for patients who do not always have the ability to communicate effectively, making them dependent on others for proper care and treatment.
A common malpractice issue that geriatricians face is getting consent for treatments. Geriatricians must communicate with their patients about treatment plans, and know when their patients can no longer make informed decisions for themselves. When patients can no longer make their own decisions, geriatricians will need to be aware of the terms of the advance medical directive (living will) or consult with the family member or friend who has power of attorney to make decisions for the patient. The doctor should not be making treatment decisions for the patient without obtaining proper consent.
When patients do have advance medical directives, like do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, geriatricians must follow them.
Elderly patients are vulnerable to abuse because they may not have the ability to protect themselves or may not have someone looking out for them on a daily basis. Geriatricians are supposed to be their patient’s advocate, but malpractice can occur when they neglect their patients or abuse them financially, emotionally, or physically.
Geriatricians will also have to deal with a variety of end of life issues for their patients, and must be responsive to the legally binding decisions their patients and the family of their patients make.
Experienced Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorneys
Geriatricians provide holistic care for their patients, so they should know the full medical histories of their patients including what other doctors they are seeing, what types of medications they are on, and what their advance medical directives are and/or who holds power of attorney for them. Failing to do so can result in negligent errors that harm their patients.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury under the care of a geriatrician, call Gilman & Bedigian today to talk to an attorney and begin your case. A skilled medical malpractice attorney can tell you if you are eligible for compensation.
Call (800) 592-6162 today to schedule your free consultation.