Writing a report for a coroner might not be a part of most optometrists’ day-to-day workload but as a Toowoomba optometrist can attest, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.
The optometrist’s patient died in a car accident and was found to have been driving without their spectacles. The optometrist was asked to write a report for the coroner, and was able to rely on their own well-maintained record-keeping to document the patient’s case. The optometrist had noted in the record that they had told the patient that legally they must wear a vision correction to drive.
The scenario highlights the importance of diligent record-keeping, the legal responsibilities of practitioners regarding driver licensing, communicating with patients about their own legal responsibility behind the wheel, and optometrists’ involvement in state and territory judiciary systems.
Optometry Australia’s professional services manager Jared Slater says it is vital for optometrists to understand their legal obligations to the Driver Licensing Authority (DLA) in their state or territory.
‘Mandatory reporting laws and legal requirements vary from state to state, or territory. The Austroads website is the primary source of information about assessing fitness to drive, medical standards for licensing, and reporting responsibilities,’ Mr Slater said.
‘Optometrists also need to be familiar with the unique characteristics and legal framework in their own state or territory. Courts can subpoena health records, including optometrists’, so it is imperative to always maintain accurate clinical records around driver safety and discussions with patients with respect to this,’ he said.
Austroads and the National Transport Commission published Assessing Fitness to Drive medical standards for licensing and clinical management guidelines in 2012.
‘Optometrists are familiar with the medical standards when making an assessment of a person’s fitness to drive but are less familiar with the additional information around legislative requirements,’ Mr Slater said.
He said having a conversation with a patient about their responsibility in the driver’s seat and documenting that conversation as part of record-keeping are essential.
‘Assessing Fitness to Drive stipulates that patients should always be made aware of the effects and even the potential or possible future effects of their condition on driving, and should be advised of their legal obligation to notify the driver licensing authority where driving is likely to be affected,’ Mr Slater said.
Optometrists also have mandatory reporting obligations. The flow chart (below) summarises the process involved when a health professional assesses fitness to drive in the course of treating a patient.
Austroads’ guidelines state that in the case of assessments made in the course of patient treatment, when encouraging patients to self-report their condition to the driver licensing authority, the health professional should complete a copy of the Medical condition notification form and provide this to the patient to take to the driver licensing authority.
It recommends that the health professional retain a copy of the Medical condition notification form in the patient record. The driver licensing authority will also accept a letter describing the patient’s condition and the nature of any driving restrictions recommended.
‘If the patient continues to drive despite advice to the contrary, the health professional should consider notifying the driver licensing authority,’ the guidelines state.
‘If the patient did not notify the driver licensing authority and subsequently became involved in a vehicle crash as a result of their condition or illness, the health professional would not be at risk unless it could be demonstrated that they were aware of the patient’s continuing driving and were also aware of the imminent and serious risk.’
Assessing Fitness to Drive can be downloaded free of charge from www.austroads.com.au. Refer to:
- Part A: 2: 2.3: Roles and responsibilities of health professionals (page 8)
- Part A: 5: Assessment and Reporting Process (page 24)
- Part C: Appendix 3.2: Legislation relating to reporting by health professionals (page 138)
- Part C: Appendix 8: Driver licensing authority contacts (page 149)
Flow chart for assessing and reporting on fitness to drive in the course of patient treatment.