Thursday, May 20, 2010

Doc shopping making a comeback?

Improving the health of truck drivers industry-wide is a noble cause – and something that needs to happen. The average life expectancy of truck drivers is age 61. That’s 13 years shorter than for the average adult.

The devil is in the details when it comes down to how to go about improving truck driver health.

Right now, sleep apnea is the hot button issue drawing all of the attention. No one can argue that individuals with sleep apnea need to discuss treatment options with their personal health care providers. At best, going without treatment leaves these folks feeling like they’re not on the top of their game. At worst? It can lead to death.

Now there is an attempt to tie sleep apnea to highway safety. There are meetings on it. There are conferences on it. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is moving forward to see if there really is a link. Still others don’t want to wait around and just want a one-size-fits-all mandate for testing if certain indicators exist because it’s “common sense.”

Anytime you start toying around with regulating an individual’s health, you have to consider the unintended consequences.

I can assure you, a heavy-handed approach is going to have more people in need of sleep apnea treatment fearing for their jobs than for their health. The fear of losing their jobs will drive them underground, so to say.

It would be a lot like things were for diabetics years ago. If you were put on insulin, you were put off the road. Period. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

There were plenty of drivers whose diabetes raged out of control because they hid the need for treatment. They would lie to their doctors. They might even find a doctor who wouldn’t report them or worse yet some back alley clinic without any real training.

Those who did seek treatment usually went and found a second non-DOT doctor, paid out of pocket, and hoped they weren’t found out.

It was the dirty little secret of diabetes in the trucking industry.

Finally, the prohibition was lifted and an exemption for individuals with managed diabetes was added to the books.

Know what happened next?

Drivers by the droves came clean with their doctors about their diabetes-related concerns. Many who had been limping along without insulin were given a new lease on life.

There’s more than one way to improve the health of truckers in the industry. And I certainly hope that we find a way that truthfully achieves it – before we do something stupid and set driver health more than a few steps backward.