Treating Truck Drivers with Sleep Apnea Offers Safety, Health Benefits

For commercial motor vehicle drivers with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), effective treatment lowers health care costs and disability rates, reports a study in the May Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Treating OSA in truck drivers has economic as well as health and safety benefits, according to the new study, led by Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, chief medical officer of Waste Management Inc.

The researchers used insurance claims records to evaluate the effects of OSA treatment in commercial motor vehicle drivers. Costs were compared for 156 drivers who received continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or other treatments for OSA and 92 drivers who were diagnosed with OSA but were not treated.

For treated drivers, health plan costs decreased by an average of $2,700 in the first year and another $3,100 in the second year, compared to no change for untreated drivers. The treated drivers also missed fewer work days (average 4.4 days in the first year) and had lower short-term disability costs ($528 over two years).

On average, treatment for OSA led to “over $6,000 in total health plan and disability cost savings per treated driver,” the researchers noted. Total costs decreased by 41 percent in drivers treated for OSA (compared to an eight percent decrease in untreated drivers).

Sleep apnea is an important preventable cause of motor vehicle accidents, and studies have found that treatment for OSA can lower the accident rate. Screening and treatment for OSA has recently been recommended for commercial motor vehicle drivers.

The new study suggests that, in addition to lowering accident rates, treating OSA in commercial motor vehicle drivers can reduce health costs, work absences, and short-term disability. Hoffman and colleagues noted, “Addressing OSA in the workplace offers the possibility of early identification and intervention for a chronic disease that is associated with increased health benefit utilization.”

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