Docs should be drivers of cellphone safety

Alongside counsel for heart disease, diabetes, allergies and other conditions, researchers from the University of Alberta also insist that family physicians broach the topic of cellphone safety with patients, especially the dangers of dialing and driving.

“The evidence is clear and compelling. Epidemiologic, driver simulator and naturalistic studies demonstrate that cellphones and driving are a dangerous combination. Unfortunately, while most drivers view cellphone use [when] driving as unacceptable, many of them still engage in it,” wrote Victoria K. Lee, a family medicine resident at the university.

Lee, with commentary co-writers Chantelle Champagne and Louis Hugo Francescutti — a professor in the School of Public Health and adjunct professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, respectively — noted that using a cellphone while driving can up a patient’s risk for injury four-sixfold. And while many law enforcement organizations have taken it upon themselves to widely promote the hazards, the trio believes that physicians also have a responsibility to their patients and healthcare ethics to pay the dilemma its discussion due.

The discussion points listed in the commentary included the following:

  • Turn off your cellphone when you enter your vehicle or switch it to silent mode and put it somewhere you cannot reach it.
  • Set up caller ID and a reliable voice mail system that lets callers know you might be driving and will return their call at a later time.
  • Ask passengers to help by operating cellphones and other electronic devices. If you are the passenger, speak up and offer to help.
  • If you need to make an important call, pull over and park in a safe location before reaching for your cellphone.
  • Do not call your friends, co-workers, clients or family when you know they are driving.

This education and focus on prevention is inherent to the primary care physician’s mission to ensure to the best of their ability that patients know how to stay well, the authors concluded.

“Patients regard us as community leaders and experts in health and safety. We are in a unique position to influence the thoughts and behavior of people regarding their overall health and well-being by educating them about the issue of distracted driving.”

The opinion was published in the latest edition of the journal Canadian Family Physician.