MENTAL ILLNESS: CA Doctors More Likely to Report Impaired Drivers
California doctors are better equipped than their counterparts with the knowledge to "report patients with mental impairments that could affect driving ability," according to a study published in the January issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Lead author Greg Cable of the Jersey City Medical Center in New Jersey and his colleagues discovered that one-third of doctors outside California "had no idea what to do about a patient the doctor suspected should not continue driving." But in California, fewer than 10% of doctors surveyed did not know how to report a patient. Part of the difference, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, "appears to be related to the California mandatory-reporting system," which states that a doctor must file a report with the local public health authority when he or she becomes concerned that an impairment, such as dementia, poses a danger to driving. The health agency in turn reports that information to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, who can either suspend or revoke those patients' licenses.
Last Line of Protection
The authors concluded, "Physicians may be the last line of protection from drivers who are impaired by dementia, and though the physicians seem willing to intervene to protect the public (and their patients), many do not know the necessary steps to take to do so." In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Richard Marottoli of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven, CT, wrote, "Having a reporting requirement for dementia (or any other condition) does not guarantee that all physicians will know about the law, agree with it, or comply with it. It might be that if all states publicized their reporting process to a similar extent (as California), knowledge levels would be similar regardless of whether reporting was mandatory or voluntary" (Hall, 1/4).