Doctor determined to deliver better healthcare for truckers
The numbers are frightening. As many as 90 percent of over-the-road drivers are taking medication for high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or some combination of the three. The average life expectancy for a truck driver is 57. Every day across the nation, about 20 to 30 drivers die of “natural causes,” many of them found in their cabs. More U.S. truckers die from the flu than do members of any other profession.
Dr. John McElligott, co-founder of the Professional Drivers Medical Depot (pd-md.com) and director of perhaps the largest study of drivers’ health issues ever undertaken, knows the numbers as well as anyone because he helped gathered the data. He has probably interviewed and examined more truck drivers than any doctor in the country. He has heard the medical community dismiss the growing health crisis among drivers as “poor personal choices” or “that’s just the way they are.”
“No it’s not,” McElligott says. “The real problem is, we have not educated drivers about health issues. That’s the bottom line.”
To that end, the Professional Drivers Medical Depot plans to open as many as 80 healthcare centers at truck stops around the country. The first one opened earlier this year at the Petro in Knoxville, TN, with others due to open soon in West Memphis, AR; Atlanta; Shreveport, LA; Peru, IL; and Me-bane, NC. McElligott expects it will take at least five years before the nationwide network of walk-in clinics is complete.
A medical director, a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner and a medical technician/paramedic will staff each facility. The clinics will provide a range of medical care, including physicals, drug testing, injury treatment and flu shots. In addition, the clinics will be affiliated with local hospitals, so PD-MD can fast-track drivers requiring further care.
“The typical driver walks in and says he doesn’t feel well or that he’s having chest pains,” McElligott says. “In our first week in Knoxville, we found everything from dehydration, pneumonia and influenza to one person who was actually having a heart attack. Fortunately, he took an aspirin while he was still on the road and he was able to make it to our clinic. We did an EKG on him, called an ambulance and sent him to the hospital. Probably saved his life.”
McElligott, who has his CDL, says the clinics are even prepared to look after trucks when drivers have to leave them. He cites instances where he’s moved a truck to a secure parking spot or checked on reefers to keep temperature-sensitive loads cool until the driver returns from treatment.
“We will do anything we can do to help these guys, because they have been ab-solutely ignored by the medical profession,” McElligott says.