PPD Develops First-Ever Fleet-Wide Sleep Apnea Screening Tool

Challenge:

Schneider National, Inc. was facing major safety and financial risks associated with drivers and sleep-disordered breathing.

Solution:

PPD develops first-ever fleet-wide screening tool to detect sleep apnea among drivers. PPD also conducts treatment and monitors compliance.

Benefits:

Schneider National reduces risk of highway accidents, enhances overall driver health and performance, reduces insurance premiums, and improves bottom line.


Safety first, and always.

Schneider National, Inc., one of the nation’s largest long-haul commercial carriers, has a fleet of over 15,000 drivers — 15,000 drivers that haul freight across America’s highways, day and night. With so many trucks on the road at any given moment, the risk of having an accident is a major concern, so it’s no surprise that Schneider National takes the safety of its drivers and all roadway travelers very seriously. In fact, “safety first, and always” is the carrier’s core value.

Wendy Sullivan, RN and Manager of Schneider National’s Occupational Health Department, is no exception. The health of their drivers is her number-one priority. “We do everything we can to keep our drivers healthy and ensure those highways are safe,” she explains. That includes, of course, complying with all Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. But for Sullivan, it goes well beyond following the DOT. “At Schneider National, we have even stricter standards on driver health than the DOT,” she says. “We continually screen and monitor our drivers for any problems that might affect their driving.” This includes illnesses that are common among truck drivers, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. It also includes sleep apnea.

The risk is real.

Sleep apnea is estimated to be afflicting 28% of truck drivers on the road.

For years, the nurses of the Occupational Health Department at Schneider National have checked their drivers for sleep apnea. According to Sullivan, “We recognized a trend among our drivers. Many of them seemed to ‘fit the bill’ and had related symptoms such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and acid reflux disease, among others. These drivers were more likely to be suffering from sleep apnea, and were probably not even aware of it.” That was a red flag for Sullivan and her staff, because drivers who suffer from sleep apnea are two to seven times more likely to have an accident.

“We sensed there was a problem,” she says. “So we started a company wide campaign to raise awareness of sleep apnea among our drivers.” And that led them to Dr. Mark Berger, founder of Precision Pulmonary Diagnostics (PPD).

Working with PPD.

“We were immediately impressed with Dr. Berger’s knowledge of sleep apnea and of its significance in the commercial trucking industry,” remembers Sullivan. “He understood the lifestyle of truck drivers, as well as the challenge we were facing. He also knew how to remedy the situation.” So they formed a partnership to take action.

PPD developed the first-ever fleet-wide, online screening tool for Schneider National — an objective way for Sullivan and her team to collect concrete medical data on their drivers and assess the risk of sleep apnea. Once a driver has been recognized as being at risk, Schneider National offers to pay for testing and treatment by Dr. Berger. “There is no need for concern over job security for these drivers; we tried to make it clear that we just wanted them to be treated and stay safe,” Sullivan explains.

The decision to pursue fleet-wide screening for sleep apnea was heavily influenced by a cost analysis of 339 Schneider National drivers that were treated for this condition between January 2003 and December 2005. That study, presented at the 2005 International Truck and Bus Safety and Security Symposium, demonstrated a 91% reduction in hospitalizations after CPAP treatment.

Schneider National also found a 65% increase in retention rates in drivers who were diagnosed and treated versus the overall employee population.

Drivers get the help they need.

Once a driver is diagnosed with sleep apnea, they are treated and monitored with CPAP breathing masks by Dr. Berger. Dr. Berger also works to ensure driver compliance of treatment, meaning they wear the mask every night for a better night’s sleep. With better sleep, the risk of related health conditions is decreased, and even more importantly, the excessive drowsiness among drivers that has become a real danger on the road is avoided.

Sullivan estimates that with the new web-based screening tool in place, there will be 12,000 to 13,000 drivers screened by early June. “Among those drivers tested, our [Dr. Berger and Sullivan] goal is to have one thousand drivers treated by the end of 2006.”

Realizing the benefits.

Since partnering with PPD, Schneider National is realizing benefits from not only a safety and health and wellness perspective, but from an insurance perspective as well. According to Sullivan, Schneider National’s healthcare company did an analysis of the new statistics and projected a substantial decrease in monthly total healthcare costs — as much as $500 per driver, per month.

Driving into the future.

Schneider National has always been a pioneer in the industry regarding safety, and by continuing to work with PPD, Sullivan anticipates they’ll avert even more accidents. “Dr. Berger has enabled us to improve driver performance and productivity,” she explains. “That means safer highways for all travelers — now and down the road.”