The Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons is moving ahead with plans to assess the competency of aging doctors.

Recently, a 75-year-old doctor in northern Cape Breton voluntarily gave up her licence after she started to lose her hearing.

In response, Dr. Gus Grant, registrar and CEO of the college, said there may be cases where a doctor can't handle the full range of services due to an age-related limitation.

“If you look at the large group of physicians who are over the age of 70 —  if 70 is the number and I think 70 seems to be where there's a line in the sand drawn by other provinces —  if you look at that larger group of physicians it would be worthwhile for the college to help those physicians identify their learning needs, help them tailor their practice to their skills, and to ensure confidence, to ensure public safety,” he said.

Grant said there are hundreds of doctors in Nova Scotia still working in their senior years and advancing age should not, by itself, force a doctor to retire.

He said the College of Physicians and Surgeons takes all complaints seriously, no matter what age the doctor is.

Preventing problems

When Nova Scotia adopts a monitoring program, it will join provinces such as Manitoba where doctors aged 75 years and older are tested every five years.

Dr. Terry Babick, deputy registrar of the Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons, said most senior doctors offer adequate care, but occasionally problems arise.

“If in fact there is actually a threat to the public then the entire issue takes on a much more serious note, because these are generally educational in nature but if we perceive that there is a threat to public safety then we inform the registrar immediately,” he said.

In Manitoba, doctors are assessed through a random review of their charts. Babick said when minor problems are discovered the doctor is asked to take additional training.

The Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons said it hopes to have an assessment program ready sometime this year.

A 2011 study released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that a third of physicians 65 and older are still working full time. Also, older doctors who were no longer classified as working full time still carried, on average, 40 per cent of a full workload.