Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a respiratory disorder characterized by a reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep, affects as many as half of the nation’s 3.5 million long-haul truck drivers.
But it’s a problem that potentially affects all highway users. That’s because those drivers are five times more likely to have accidents, according to safety data.
The good news, however, is that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has determined that treated drivers can be as safe as those without the disease.
FMCSA recently solicited comments on how to best update its medical handbook on OSA. It’s a thorny subject because truck drivers need to pass their physicals free of sleep apnea risk to get their medical certifications to continue driving.
But unfortunately, traditional testing and treatment are often inconvenient and expensive.
As important, given the pervasiveness of OSA among drivers, this is an important personal quality of life issue. Drivers treated for OSA are likely to live healthier, fuller and longer lives. OSA raises the chance of a stroke by 60 percent and heart attack by 30 percent.
In response to confusion over the FMCSA sleep apnea proposal, Dr. Karen Underwood, chief medical officer for Resonea, an Arizona-based med-tech company focused on advancing sleep health technology, explained that Resonea is solely focused on sleep help, adding that its position is that if regulations are truly needed for the testing of OSA, then they need to be clear and concise.
“We believe in focusing on improving the quality of life through better sleep and giving drivers the choice to make that decision,” Underwood said.
According to Harvard School of Medicine, as many as half of commercial drivers may have OSA. According to FMCSA, drivers treated for OSA are no riskier than drivers without the medical condition. Because of these two simple facts we believe it is in everyone’s interest to make testing and treatment easy and affordable.
“If FMCSA decides to provide guidance that drivers should be tested for sleep apnea, that guidance should be thoroughly researched and presented in a clear and consistent manner,” Underwood said. “Guidance from FMCSA needs to reflect the views from all stakeholders, from drivers, medical professionals, law enforcement officials and motor carrier executives.” Underwood added.
Done correctly, she said FMCSA guidelines could contribute to a positive impact on the health of drivers and possibly keep them driving longer. OSA can influence so many other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes which negatively affects so many of our drivers. These health problems can shorten their driving careers and quality of life. In contrast, correctly diagnosed and treated drivers are as safe as those without the disease.
“We want to do for sleep apnea testing, like what Netflix has done for movies,” Underwood said.
In other words, she would make testing and treatment available on a driver’s schedule, at a low cost, anytime and anywhere.
“Our industry goal should be to tear-down the barriers to testing and treatment of sleep apnea,” Underwood said. “Testing and treatment need to be private, affordable, comfortable and convenient.”
She said the new software puts the patient in control, not sleep center schedules, hardware availability or shipping requirements. All one needs to test for apnea is a smartphone and the app.
Underwood called current FMSCA guidance “unclear and inconsistent”—especially among proposed modifications to the Medical Examiners Handbook.
“This has led to frustration for all relevant, affected groups including carriers, medical examiners and most importantly, to drivers who ultimately need guidance on the disease and its potential impact on their livelihood and health,” she said.
That guidance should be research-based, clear, concise and consistent, Underwood said.
By contrast, Resonea says, traditional testing requires scheduling in-lab sleep tests and travel to testing locations. Traditional home sleep tests require equipment maintenance, disinfecting and shipping/returning.
The best comparison: Old-school viewing of movies required you to be available when it was showing, travel to pick up a DVD or getting one in the mail. Resonea software moves from old-school testing to an on-demand, anywhere/anytime service like offered today by Netflix, Disney, Amazon Prime and others.
More information is available at http://www.Resonea.com.
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