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Clinical driving fitness evaluation could prevent car accidents

A new program at Loyola University Health System could help prevent people who don’t realize they aren’t fit to drive from getting behind the wheel. It could also relieve the awkwardness that often keeps people from confronting elderly loved ones about their deteriorating driving habits.

The program involves a comprehensive clinical evaluation of patients within Loyola’s health system and would be ordered by a physician. The evaluation, which takes about an hour and a half, is a focused evaluation of whether the patient is able to safely drive a car. The program is generally intended for older people and those with conditions directly affecting driving ability, such as brain injuries, strokes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and vision impairments.

The clinician takes down the patient’s medical history and then tests him or her in areas including cognitive function, vision and perception, reaction time, motor function and similar physical abilities needed for driving. The patient is then rated as fit to drive, unfit to drive due to significant impairments, or needing a behind-the-wheel assessment to further understand his or her driving ability.

Afterward, a report is sent to the patient’s doctor and shared with both the patient and family members, if appropriate. Then, the person’s driving ability can be discussed sensitively so that both the patient and the family can understand what the risks may be from continuing to drive and explore options about alternatives.

If adaptive modifications to the vehicle could enable the patient to continue driving, those will also be recommended, as well as any vision care or occupational therapy that could help.

This program is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans, as long as it’s ordered by a physician.

We all know how important driving is to most people, and there’s no solid evidence that older folks or people with disabilities are automatically bad drivers. At the same time, some hold on to the car keys longer than they should, and that creates a serious risk of car accidents when they’re behind the wheel.

Let’s hope that similar driver rehabilitation programs become common across the nation so we can prevent people who truly shouldn’t be driving from being injured or injuring others.

Source: Claims Journal, “How to Determine Whether a Patient is Safe to Drive,” Oct. 11, 2013

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