In trucking, things were simpler in the old days. That sentiment includes the process of medical qualification. Just like with the CDL and the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, the FMCSA has made it much easier for law enforcement and potential employers to access your information.
Once upon a time, a driver could simply obtain the appropriate forms and find a medical professional to perform the exam. Drivers who didn’t pass or didn’t like something in the results could simply find another examiner.
Times have changed. Medical examiners must be registered with the FMCSA and report their findings to a national registry, which keeps the exam results on file.
Examiners still have the option of granting a two-year certification or one for a shorter period, such as a year, six or three months. What’s different is that the examiner can delay the certification while obtaining additional information.
The changes have created havoc for some drivers but, in many cases, the driver is responsible. Hypertension, for example, is commonly diagnosed in the driving population. In most cases, an inexpensive pill per day keeps blood pressure under control. Too many drivers, however, don’t get prescriptions refilled or renewed and end up failing the next physical exam. Instead of getting back on the meds and retaking blood pressure readings later, examining physicians can require further testing. The examiner can delay for up to 45 days while awaiting results. That’s more than six weeks that the driver can’t earn a paycheck.
Failed exams present another problem because the driver can’t simply try again at another doctor. When a condition is diagnosed, it generally must be treated before passing the exam.
The first two pages of the most recent exam form are taken up with spaces for questions about things like surgery and medications, including herbal supplements. “Yes” answers to any of them may require documentation of treatment and testing results to convince the examiner that the condition is under control. Questions asking about anxiety, diabetes, sleep apnea and more are designed to uncover issues and make sure they are treated. Questions about alcohol and illegal substances seek to uncover untreated issues.
While it may be tempting to simply check the “No” box to each question, remember that a national registry makes it possible to compare physical exams taken at different times and with different examiners. It may be better to answer truthfully and bring documentation for any items the examiner may question. Examiners often ask who’s your regular primary physician? If your response is the local urgent care center, your chances of a delayed certification rise dramatically. Examiners want to know that you are aware of health issues and are complying with prescribed treatments. They want to know you are managing your health rather than letting it manage you.
Before your next exam is due, take an inventory of your health issues. Is your eyeglass prescription current? Have you renewed your prescriptions for blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar medications? Are you using your CPAP or BPAP machine, and has your physician reviewed results in the past few months?
As we age and, in many cases, grow heavier, the likelihood of medical issues increases. By managing your health, including periodic visits to a doctor who knows you and your file, you can be better prepared for your next DOT physical exam. This effort will decrease the chances of your driving career being interrupted by a failed or delayed certification. An unpaid vacation while you try to “fix” shortcomings in your health management plan is an expensive way to get healthier.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.