Care On The Road: How Telemedicine Can Reach Truck Drivers

Long distance trucking is a unique career, but it isn’t going anywhere – we’re a long way from self-driving tractor trailers – so it’s important for the medical industry to bridge that gap. Telemedicine can make truck drivers healthier and make our roads safer, but it can also help truckers build relationships with the medical system

August 24, 2017
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Telemedicine is considered a powerful tool for individuals living in rural areas, far from adequate services or in need of specialized care for a chronic condition, but as the technology becomes more widespread, other demographics are being considered as targets of outreach. And one group that could potentially be aided by telemedicine is long distance truck drivers – with increased care also protecting those they share the road with.

Of all the economic, cultural, or regional grouping in the United States, why truckers? Simply put, truckers are vulnerable to chronic diseases due to a sedentary lifestyle. Many are obese, have high blood pressure, are smokers, and don’t get enough sleep. Monitoring their health using telemedicine technology can help reduce long-term costs and help truckers make changes to protect their health.

Dual Vulnerabilities

One of the main reasons that advocates want to connect truckers with telemedicine has to do with the significant dangers posed by drowsy driving and illness among truckers. A single misstep by a truck driver can cause multiple fatalities; so often, these incidents can be prevented by a combination of improved policies (shorter hours, more scheduling leeway) and better healthcare for drivers. It’s cheaper to provide telemedicine services than settle with injured accident victims or bereaved families.

Treating On The Road

There are several key health concerns that telemedicine seeks to address among truckers. In particular, eye movement disorders and sleep disorders that can cause accidents. For example, strabismus, a misalignment of the eyes most commonly seen in childhood, can develop in adults, resulting in blurred or double vision, eye strain, and headaches. Strabismus is fairly easy to treat with surgery, eye patches, or glasses, but untreated it can make driving dangerous. Simply put, a quick eye exam to identify strabismus can save lives.

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Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are especially common in truck drivers – they’re something of a characteristic rather than a condition because drivers need to keep unusual and unusually long hours. Unfortunately, sleep issues feed into numerous other health issues, including metabolic problems and decision-making and response time.

One of the main reasons doctors want to address sleep disorders among truck drivers is because of something known as microsleep. Microsleep is a symptom of sleep deprivation – essentially universal among truckers – in which people fall asleep without realizing it. It may be characterized by staring, loss of focus, or the head may fall forward and then snap back, but regardless of how it manifests itself, microsleep is a major contributor to trucking accidents and it can be prevented.

Also in the class of sleep disorders, and one made worse by the trucking lifestyle and conditions like obesity and high blood pressure associated with the job, is sleep apnea. Though you may not be able to get a trucker to drop in for a sleep study on short notice, via telemedicine, doctors can screen for the condition and recommend further steps, including weight loss, use of a CPAP machine, or other interventions. Since sleep apnea can lead to the kind of chronic exhaustion that makes people prone to microsleep, it’s imperative that it be identified and treated.

Supporting Access To Care

Truckers are uniquely vulnerable when it comes to receiving proper healthcare for reasons that extend beyond the mobility and unusual hours the job requires. Consider, for example, that many truckers are actually independent contractors. They have few protections and aren’t covered by any kind of corporate health insurance, so they need to decide whether to purchase their own.

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That being said, only 30% of truckers have primary care doctors, so why would they invest in coverage when they don’t have medical support? Coverage is typically tied to a location, so it’s not especially beneficial – or it wasn’t until the advent of telemedicine. Telemedicine is inexpensive (less expensive than traditional care), timely, and mobile. It’s precisely what truckers need.

Trucking-affiliated companies understand the potential benefits of linking drivers with medical services, so we can expect to see more companies offering telemedicine-focused insurance for those in the industry. It may not be comprehensive in the manner of traditional insurance, but because it’s mobile and affordable, truckers are more likely to use it, and that’s ultimately what matters.

Long distance trucking is a unique career, but it isn’t going anywhere – we’re a long way from self-driving tractor trailers – so it’s important for the medical industry to bridge that gap. Telemedicine can make truck drivers healthier and make our roads safer, but it can also help truckers build relationships with the medical system that will encourage pursuing care in the long term. Open the door, or the phone line, and start the consultation. It could be the beginning of something more.