Thank you, Dr. Amy Ship; you have truly made my day!
This Boston area primary care physician has written a "Perspective" essay in The New England Journal of Medicine arguing persuasively that, "A question about driving and distraction is as central to the preventive care we provide as the other questions--about tobacco, alcohol, seat belts, and exercise--we ask."
In fact, Dr. Ship calls talking about the health consequences of driving and distraction "the most primary of care."
She points out that she and her colleagues at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center routinely ask their patients lifestyle-related questions about practices known to be associated with harm. "We know," she asserts, "that counseling patients about dangerous behaviors can have powerful consequences."
That's why she has recently added a new question to her litany. Dr. Ship finds that "Do you text while you drive?" opens up the routine review of health and safety habits to talking on a cell phone while driving, which we know is roughly equivalent, safety-wise, to driving while intoxicated.
"Context matters," Dr. Ship claims:
"When a doctor raises an issue while providing overall preventive care, the message is different from that conveyed by a public service announcement nestled between ads for chips and beer or a printed warning on a product box."
Different, for that matter, even from a Secretary of Transportation's blog? I think so.
As Dr. Ship notes, it's not about morality; it's about helping one's patients lead healthy, safe lives:
"We talk about alternatives, including pulling over to make or take calls. I remind them that we all managed without mobile phones until recently and encourage them to return to the practices of the pre–cell-phone era, to pay attention to what they're doing and their surroundings, rather than attempt to multitask."
I thank you, Dr. Ship, for that advice. And I hope the primary care community quickly adopts your approach as a true best practice.
As you wrote in your essay, "Not to ask--and not to educate our patients and reduce their risk--is to place in harm's way those we hope to heal."