Dr Mary Butler has examined how GPs medically assess older drivers for their fitness to drive.
Drivers over the age of 75 have to be medically assessed every year to check they are able to safely continue driving. This assessment is undertaken by each driver's own GP, although a GP can also refer patients to occupational therapist driving assessors. Stopping driving can increase the social isolation of older people, but public safety also has to be taken into account.
The Health Research Council is funding research into how people manage the process of stopping driving. Dr Mary Butler's contribution to this research centred on the role of GPs in this process. She carried out interviews with a sample of GPs to find out what their current practice is.
Mary found that the guidelines for the GPs currently leave room for wide differences in the GPs' practice. She recommends that the processes for doing driving assessments be streamlined. For example, some guidance would be beneficial on when and how GPs could use driving restrictions to balance public safety with a driver's wish to continue driving. Another area where more guidance could be given is around when to make referrals for driving assessments. Mary has communicated her findings to GPs at their annual conference. About 70 people attended Mary's presentation and the active discussion confirmed the need for improved processes.
There is also an opportunity for consideration of best practice in the driving assessments undertaken by occupational therapists on referral. What should those more comprehensive assessments encompass? What does fitness to drive mean? Mary has written a driving position statement for Occupational Therapy New Zealand Whakaora Ngangahau Aotearoa, to initiate this conversation.
Image credit: John M, used under Creative Commons licence CC BY SA 2.0