Physician Warnings for Unfit Drivers Reduce Risk of Road Crashes, Study Shows

October 5, 2012 | Strategic Insights for Ambulatory Care


Elderly patients who were warned by their physicians that they are unfit to drive safely experienced significantly fewer automobile accidents resulting in an emergency department (ED) visit after the warning was given, according to a study published September 27, 2012, in the New England Journal of Medicine. However, some had worsened depression and made fewer visits to their providers following the warning—possibly signaling an impaired provider/patient relationship. The authors say that clinical judgment is needed to decide which patients would benefit from such a warning by weighing the potential harms and benefits to the patient’s health, public safety on the roads, and the effect on the provider/patient relationship. Throughout the three-year baseline period, patients who later received a warning were involved as drivers in 1,430 crashes resulting in an ED visit by the patient, equivalent to a rate of 4.76 events per 1,000 people annually, which is about double the rate in the general population. One year after receiving a warning, patients were involved as drivers in 273 crashes resulting in an ED visit (about 2.73 events per 1,000 people annually—still higher than in the general population).

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