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Driver Fitness Going Hi-Tech


While the use of technology in health and wellness is hardly new, the latest development could have interesting implications for the trucking and transportation industries a few years down the road.
Apple’s new software development platform, “Research Kit,” provides an open-source way for users to develop iPhone apps for use in medical research. Because most people carry their smartphones with them at all times, these devices are in an ideal position to collect and transmit data on what their owners are doing, without study participants having to fill out a lot of cumbersome paperwork or visit a doctor’s office. 
Already, at least five iPhone apps exist for use in research on breast cancer, diabetes, asthma, and Parkinson’s disease. Research Kit will allow doctors and scientists to easily create their own custom apps. The hope is that if participating in medical research is easier and less invasive, more people will participate.
At the moment, Research Kit is simply a service offered by a single electronics company to universities, hospitals, and researchers. But it is entirely possible that that concept of smartphone based medical monitoring will catch on. The popularity of existing consumer health monitors, such as FitBit, suggests public interest in this type of service. In the future, similar programming platforms across the electronics industry might allow doctors, health coaches, and even employers to develop their own apps as part of programs intended, not for research, but for healthcare.
And this is where the trucking industry comes in.
Driving a truck is physically very demanding. Not only does a driver have to be healthy in order to drive safely, but being on the road is hard on the body and potentially exhausting. Trucking companies have a responsibility to make sure that their employees are healthy and safe on the road. Health monitoring apps could become a useful tool in those efforts.
Of course, there is a potential threat to privacy at issue here. Should the vital signs and activity levels of ordinary Americans be sent, in real-time, to their bosses? What if somebody steals the information or electronically alters it? Obviously, health programs based on this technology will have to include privacy safeguards. Perhaps the health data will be pooled and rendered anonymous so that the trucking company can only use it to assess the overall health of its workforce. Already, Research Kit apps respond to privacy concerns by not transmitting data until the smartphone owner has signed an electronic release. Apple itself has no access to the medical data.
Curiously, health monitoring apps do the same things for human beings what telematics does for trucks; collect and transmit status information in real-time. Of course, the apps do not transmit the user’s location, the way telematics services do.
Fleet management software already does a lot to support driver health. Teletrac Safety Analytics feature encourages safer driving behavior and facilitates safety training; Hours-of-Service (HOS) tracking and driver e-logs make it easier to be certain drivers are getting enough rest. While the 2013 update to the HOS regulations have been suspended pending completion of an efficacy study, trucking companies are still deploying the feature to document their employees’ rest times and to increase compliance and reduce DOT violations. Finally, fleet management software makes it easier to track drivers’ actual performance behind the wheel. Paying by the mile alone can create an incentive for drivers to speed or to skip rest periods, but telematics allows carriers to identify the safest drivers, most efficient drivers and to give them the higher pay they deserve.

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