Monday, April 6, 2009

9 out of 10 doctors: You need a Snuggie

Who hasn’t seen the infomercial for the Snuggie, the glorious Royal blue (or crimson) fleece material that works like a blanket, only better?

The salesman that you hear pounding home the message, that you need a blanket-like garment to wear while watching TV, reading a book or even watching a football game. After the first 15 to 20 times you see the commercial, I actually considered buying it. Did the fleece material change? Did they throw in a second complimentary book light?


Because marketers pounded home the message, I had started to wonder about just how handy that book light might be.

Truckers know what it’s like to face a message being pounded, no matter its lack of substance.

For years, and especially in the past several months, certain members of the medical community, the pharmaceutical industry, and particularly CPAP manufacturers have touted the need to fix sleepy drivers.

On April Fool’s Day, no less, USA Today ran what appears to be a news article but may just as well have run under the disclaimer “paid advertisement from the sleep pharmaceutical industry.”

The national newspaper, which has furnished airports and hotels with news for nearly three decades now, published an article on April 1, which uses several unsupported claims.

This pounding of the message works if it’s allowed to remain unchallenged.

If you’re an OOIDA member or a Land Line regular, you may have come across our series on the FMCSA Medical Review Board, and the lack of data tying driver health to highway safety. OOIDA attends every Medical Review Board, and OOIDA member John McElligott, M.D., has spoken to the board about the need to consider truckers’ rights when the board makes recommendations for FMCSA regulations.

Tom Weakley, director of operations for the OOIDA Foundation, recently attended a series of panel discussions on drowsy driving in Boston. Weakley said scores of physicians and researchers packed the meetings to hear why Americans and truckers specifically needed sleep studies, machines and other gadgets marketed by pharmaceutical companies.

It wasn’t unlike a gold rush, Tom told me.

Land Line Now listeners have been outraged at the satellite radio program’s exposure of Minnesota and Indiana’s fatigued driving evaluation checklist available here.

The medical industry, and specifically pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers of CPAP machines have been pounding home the message that serves their interests very well. Their argument can be summed up as: A. American’s don’t get enough sleep. B. Some car crashes occur because some drivers are tired. C. Drivers should be tested for sleep apnea or other sleep disorders.

Of course, this kind of testing won’t go mainstream because the general public would be as tough to convince as truckers.

So the big medical industry goes after commercial trucking, tying the issuance of CDLs to certain questions asked of drivers during their DOT physical. The wrong answers may lead to a second opinion, and an expensive overnight sleep study lab.

The general public will go along with regulating “big bad trucks,” as long as a few anecdotal stories about a few irresponsible truckers are used to illustrate the point.

A few days after that USA Today story came out, an Associated Press story touted decreasing transportation fatalities.

It’s funny – drowsy driving, or the improvement of driver sleep – wasn’t mentioned as a factor.

The worst part about the latest truth: It can pop up as fast and randomly as an infomercial for the next can’t-miss marketing idea.

You just need the facts to tell the difference.