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Physican mortality from COVID-19 higher than expected


Despite higher excess deaths and greater COVID exposure, physicians still had a lower excess death rate than the general population

The number of physician deaths early in the pandemic caused by COVID-19 were in excess of what would be expected, according to a Stanford-led study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Using data from the American Medical Association, researchers calculated excess deaths from March 2020 through December 2021 among US physicians by comparing pre-pandemic mortality rates. Data were analyzed by age group and practice type. Physician mortality rates were then compared to the general population.

The analysis showed that in the targeted date range, there were 622 more physician deaths than expected, which broke down to 34.7% female and 65.3% male aged 45-84.

According to the report, there was a strong age gradient among active physicians providing direct patient care, with excess deaths per 100 000 person-years of 10 in the youngest group and 182 in the oldest group. Within all age groups, physicians had substantially lower excess mortality than the general population.

Among all active physicians, excess deaths peaked to over 70 in December 2020 and then had a rapid decrease in 2021. There was no statistically significant excess mortality after April 2021, which coincides with the widespread availability of COVID vaccines.

Even with the higher number of excessive deaths, across age groups, physicians had substantially lower excess mortality that the general population.

Researchers said the findings suggest that personal protective equipment use, vaccine requirements, infection prevention protocols, adequate staffing, and other workplace-based protective measures were effective in preventing excess mortality. Increased excess deaths among older active physicians providing direct patient care suggest that workplace policies should prioritize mitigating risk in this group, the authors recommended.

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health