Doctors, trucking companies favor new health-testing regulation

Rule requires certification for health-care professionals testing drivers

George Ford
Published: January 2 2013 | 5:30 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:16 am in

A new federal regulation requiring certified medical examiners to give physical examinations for commercial driver’s licenses is favored by trucking companies, but not so popular with drivers.

Every interstate bus and truck driver on the road today is required to pass a medical examination. Not only do they have to pass the exam, they also must have a copy of the medical examiner’s certificate that verifies a successful assessment.

In most cases, the certificate is valid for 24 months, so bus and truck drivers typically get a physical exam every two years. A medical examiner will issue a certificate for less than 24 months when a person has issues that require ongoing treatment, such as high blood pressure.

On Dec. 1, 2008, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced plans to create a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners and require medical examiners to be federally certified.

Currently, any medical doctor, chiropractor, doctor of osteopathy, advanced practice nurse, physician assistant or other health care professional authorized by their state can perform the medical examination required for a commercial driver’s license. That will change when the new regulation takes effect on May 21, 2014.

After that date, the same health care professionals will need to be certified. That will require them to attend training classes and successfully pass a test assessing their competency to administer the examinations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has estimated that attaining certification will cost approximately $550 per medical examiner — $440 for training and $110 to take the certification test. Fees for driver medical examinations vary, but generally fall in the range of $70 to $100, assuming no specialized tests are required.

Improving consistency

Dr. Joseph Kennedy, who administers physicals for commercial driver’s licenses at Mercy Care South, 2815 Edgewood Rd. SW in Cedar Rapids, believes the certification requirement will lead to more consistent medical examinations.

“You can go to 10 different doctors and you will have 10 different viewpoints on how long someone should be certified to drive,” Kennedy said. “I think it will be a good thing because it will give us clearer guidelines. Right now, no one is overseeing us.

“You’re supposed to be familiar with the guidelines and that’s it. Once this regulation takes effect, someone will look over our physicals and make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

While saying the new regulation is another in a litany for carriers already burdened with paperwork, Brenda Neville, president of the Iowa Motor Truck Association, also sees the development of a national registry leading to more consistency among medical examiners.

“Over the years, there have been instances where one physician does a physical one way and another physician down the road does it another way,” Neville said. “At the end of the day, owners want safe and healthy drivers behind the wheel of their trucks. Hopefully, the health care professionals who will be listed on the national registry will all be doing the same thing.

“The owners of small and large companies that I’ve talked with are very fine with it.”

Dr. Patrick Hartley, medical director of the Occupational Medicine Clinic at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said bus and truck drivers are subject to the same medical conditions as those in other professions.

“Unfortunately, their occupations make it more “challenging” to maintain proper diet and exercise,” Hartley said. “For many drivers, the only time they see a health care professional is every two years when they need to get their medical certificate.”

The new examinations will hopefully provide medical examiners with an opportunity to spot potential health care problems that might otherwise go undetected, said Dr. Clayton Cowl, a physician in occupational and preventive medicine with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“It’s their chance to emphasize the importance of preventive health care and get drivers pointed in the right direction in terms of pursuing healthier lifestyles,” Cowl said.

Eye strain and chronic stress are two obvious health issues long-haul truck and tour bus drivers face, but job-related and performance-affecting medical issues can go far beyond that. Other diverse problems include sleep apnea, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, painful, chronic hemorrhoids and muscular and skeletal strain.

Truckers concerned

While doctors and trucking industry executives support the change to certified examiners as improving safety and driver health, it is viewed with suspicion by drivers who see it as over-regulation of their industry.

“My personal opinion is if the doctor that you go see says you are fit to drive, then stick with that,” said Jerry Thul of De Witt, who works for a company that hauls steel for E & J Metal & Salvage in Eldridge. “We’re hearing things like if your neck is a certain size, you will need to have a sleep apnea test and that could be cause for pulling your medical.

“It’s going to pull a lot of experienced drivers off the road, and that’s not good for anyone. I think the government often is shortsighted in not seeing the full ramifications of what they are doing.

“It’s one more hoop that we as drivers have to jump through, and I don’t think it will be worth a hill of beans.”

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