Sometimes it’s so difficult for truck drivers to get seen by a doctor they get in the habit of ignoring their health problems altogether, half hoping their hectic lifestyle doesn’t catch up with them.
But it is catching up with them, according to one clinic’s findings from professional truck drivers’ DOT physicals.
Mitch Strobin of UrgentCare Travel clinics said of the more than 15,000 truck drivers who have had physicals at their facilities, about half have pre-existing hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, making it necessary for their medical cards to be issued for only a year or less rather than two years. Those results “tell us these are the conditions afflicting most drivers … unmanaged they become worse and worse.”
Started in 2014, there currently are seven UrgentCare clinics at Pilot Flying J truck stops and by this time next year there will be 25, said Strobin, vice president of service management. Eight are being added the first half of this year.
The current seven are Baytown, Texas (I-10, Exit 789); Cartersville, Georgia (I-75, Exit 296); Dallas (I-20, Exit 472); Fontana, California (I-10, Exit 64, at South Sierra Plaza); Knoxville, Tennessee (I-40, Exit 398); Oklahoma City (I-40, Exit 140); and Ruther Glen, Virginia (I-95, Exit 104).
Each clinic is 900 square feet with three exam rooms, “a full-blown clinic,” Strobin said.
Their development was a combination of UrgentCare Travel and Pilot Flying J seeing the need for drivers to have access to convenient and affordable health care with plenty of truck parking, he said.
“We’ve tried to do a clinic before but UrgentCare was the only provider to step up and grow the clinics. Obviously there’s a big need,” said Scott Klepper, senior manager of facility revenue for Pilot Flying J. “Our primary customers are the professional drivers. UrgentCare is a way to provide for them and our employees and the community at large, [those] who don’t have access to health care otherwise.”
The big picture is that at a time when hiring and retaining good drivers is crucial, untreated medical conditions can mean the end of a driver’s career.
“I just want to say I’m healthy because of your help,” wrote one truck driver who signed up for the health-care services. “I won’t beat around the bush — you all are saving my life.”
Drivers who join the UrgentCare health network pay a flat monthly rate with no copay and no deductible. And, walk-ins are perfectly acceptable as it’s understood that it’s between difficult and impossible for drivers to know when they’ll have time to get in.
Strobin said estimates are that getting drivers regular checkups and health care will save the trucking industry one billion dollars a year.
And it’s not just the drivers, their families are impacted by their health, he said, as are their carriers.
The program encourages frequent visits to the clinic so drivers can get pre-existing conditions treated and be prepared for their next DOT physical.
A reasonable flat monthly fee is working better than saddling drivers with deductibles or copays, Strobin said.
“Many don’t have health insurance and every visit is out of pocket.” Or, they have insurance but can’t afford the deductible.
Each clinic has a DOT-certified nurse practitioner and a medical assistant who provide not just physicals but all primary care services such as routine illnesses like colds and flu plus cuts, abrasions, muscle strains and other things that can result in the course of a driver’s workday.
The clinics are the first line of defense for work-related injuries, many of which can be handled as a matter of administering first-aid, not necessarily as a workman’s comp claim.
“Everything defaulting to workman’s comp doesn’t need to be the case,” Strobin said.
Drivers can walk in and request a physical, with most taking about 30 minutes.
But it’s not just a process where the driver is in and out, Strobin said. Medical staff “take pride in talking to the driver.” Since about half have pre-existing conditions the physician can discuss the next steps in managing the driver’s condition and how to take care of themselves over the long term.
Drivers are appreciative of being listened to, he said. “They know they can talk with the same provider every time. They can come in and talk face to face, get advice, get a [health] plan. It’s respect.”
For families that live near the clinic, they also can get their health needs taken care of.
“It’s very much taking care of our guests,” Klepper said, with Strobin adding, “that’s the beauty of the partnership. It benefits the entire industry.”
Dorothy Cox is former assistant editor – now retired – of The Trucker, and a 20-plus-year trucking journalism veteran. She holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a master’s degree in divinity. Cox has been in journalism since 1972. She has won awards for her writing in both mainstream and trucking journalism.