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Bill would help medical professionals report unfit drivers

Medical professionals could refer individuals they consider unfit drivers to the state for a test under a bill going before the House this month.

The legislation would protect medical professionals from legal action if they reported a patient to the state Division of Motor Vehicles.

Rep. Candace Bouchard, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, said health care providers could report that drivers “should be brought in for a test due to a medical condition that makes it unsafe for them to be driving on the road.”

The bill has been amended from a version filed last year that would have created a committee to study the examination of elderly drivers. But a law requiring tests for seniors age 75 and older was repealed in 2011, after some argued that it amounted to age discrimination.

The amended version does not refer to age. It would apply to anyone with a medical condition, Bouchard said, and is not targeted at elderly drivers.

“Anyone can be a hazard on the road if they have some kind of medical condition,” said Bouchard, a Concord Democrat.

The House Transportation Committee endorsed the bill on a 15-3 vote.

Rep. Tim O’Flaherty, a Manchester Democrat and member of the House Transportation Committee, said he voted against the bill because he is worried about its effect on doctor-patient confidentiality.

Doctors can already report patients to the DMV for testing, but the new bill would grant them immunity from criminal and civil liability if they reported their patients.

“I think that (would have) kind of a chilling effect on doctor-patient confidentiality,” O’Flaherty said. “If I was a patient and I knew that I needed to keep my driver’s license, I might be . . . reluctant to go see a doctor if I knew that he would revoke my driving privileges. Also, (there is) just the violation of trust that occurs when a doctor has this power over a patient.”

If passed by the full House this month, the bill would be referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee. Bouchard said she hopes that committee can work to address the confidentiality concerns.

“The health care community (gave) some testimony that . . . they’re unwilling to do it because they don’t want to be liable for making such a statement,” she said.

Under the current draft of the bill, reports and medical records given to the DMV would remain confidential, except in the case of a court order or a necessary administrative hearing.

The bill would apply to the several types of medical professionals: doctors, physical or occupational therapists, chiropractors, psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health workers. Those individuals would be immune from criminal and civil liability if they reported a medically unfit driver to the state.

“Ideally . . . family members would step in and take away the keys or the vehicle, but a lot of times that’s not possible,” Bouchard said.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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