Friday, December 16, 2011

Let’s get real

Medical professionals, many who stand to benefit from such a regulation, continue to beat the drum that most truck drivers should be tested for sleep apnea.

I have a short reply:

Americans are 10 times more likely to die because of a medical professional’s error than they are in a crash with a truck.

Let that sink in.

As Land Line reported last week, advisory boards including the FMCSA Medical Review Board approved recommendations that all truck drivers with a body mass index of 35 or greater be evaluated for obstructive sleep apnea.

Some studies estimate U.S. patient deaths by medical errors in at least the tens of thousands, making Americans 50 times more likely to die at the hand of a doctor than by a truck crash.

The annual fatalities tied to wrecks involving commercial vehicles has hovered near the 4,000 mark for years, actually improving the past few years and dropping below 4,000. That 4,000 figure includes any wreck in which a commercial vehicle was involved, including when the driver of a motorcycle or passenger car is killed while rear-ending a stopped truck.

Ben Hoffman is chairman of FMCSA’s Medical Review Board and the chief medical officer for GE and. Yes – that GE – the one that manufactures CPAP machines.

Hoffman took control of last week’s meeting, denigrating opposing viewpoints and largely ignoring anyone who didn’t agree with his opinion that most overweight truckers likely have sleep apnea and need CPAPS specifically to treat the affliction.

I’m stunned that Hoffman apparently doesn’t feel he may have a conflict of interest.

For fans of the NBC show “30 Rock,” this would be a bit like Jack Donaghy, the fictional TV character played by Alec Baldwin as GE’s president of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming overseeing a federal advisory board that regulates television. Well, regulates television and microwaves – and can require millions of Americans to purchase more microwaves.

But I’ll say it again – Americans are at least 10 times more likely to be killed by a medical professional than by a truck wreck – even a wreck caused by you.

After the Medical Review Board voted to recommend drivers with a BMI of 35 undergo expensive testing, OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told me he doesn’t disagree that health problems exist for most Americans, including truckers.

The problem is, no one is looking at factors that affect driver rest for all drivers – no matter their body mass index.

Issues like hours-of-service rules that discourage a driver for pulling over and taking a nap when they’re tired, or shippers and receivers who can make a driver wait for hours to be loaded or unloaded.

Board members shouldn’t be able to recommend changes that would directly benefit members’ employers.

“Realistically, the conflict of interest in the makeup of that group is just absolutely glaring,” Spencer said. “They by no means have an objective viewpoint. The Medical Review Board has an economic interest tied to this particular issue.”

The Medical Review Board includes some individuals with lengthy academic resumes. It’s too bad the board still includes no one with knowledge of or background in trucking.

I interviewed the previous Medical Review Board chairman about both the higher number of deaths from medical errors and the conflict of interest issues two years ago. Read the interview by clicking here.