Doc Adds Distracted Driving to List of Patient Inquiries

June 24, 2010

A Boston-based physician says primary care doctors “are uniquely positioned to teach and influence patients,” and should use that power to address a growing concern: distracted driving.

A Boston-based physician says primary care doctors “are uniquely positioned to teach and influence patients,” and should use that power to address a growing concern: distracted driving.

In the June 10 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, Amy N. Ship, MD, a doctor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor at the Harvard Medical School, discusses her recent addition of questions regarding distracted driving to her annual patient health and safety review.

In addition to the standard, “Do you wear a seat belt?” inquiry, Ship says she has added questions about texting while driving, the focus of numerous new state laws and numerous PSAs for young people on the dangers of such activity.

Ship details her discussions with patients, from outlining alternatives to texting and even talking while driving and common questions, including whether cell phone use while driving is more dangerous than talking to someone in the back seat. (The answer is yes, according to Ship). She also drives the point home by asking patients how they would feel if a surgeon was on the phone while removing their appendix.

“Primary care doctors are uniquely positioned to teach and influence patients; we should not squander that power,” Ship writes. “A question about driving and distraction is as central to the preventive care we provide as the other questions we ask. Not to ask – and not to educate our patients and reduce their risk – is to place in harm’s way those we hope to heal.”

Do you ask patients about their texting while driving habits? What is their reaction? What other technology-driven questions would you recommend other physicians ask?