12 July 2019

Driving Performance study in a Hospital – Surely that’s not right?

As strange as it might sound Royal Papworth Hospital’s Respiratory Support and Sleep Centre  will soon be rolling out a study to monitor how our patients drive. Sounds interesting but what’s it got to do with hospital led health care? 

Most people will be well aware that a bad night’s sleep can affect them in a number of ways. Examples include: cognitive impairment, poor emotional regulation (especially important when dealing with the traffic in Huntingdon and Cambridge!) and slower reaction times, which all relate to driving performance and most importantly driving safety Now imagine you have a medical condition which results in many nights of poor sleep over consecutive days and weeks. Patients with the sleep disordered breathing condition known as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) have been shown to be 3 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle collision compared to people without. Which is very concerning, particularly when OSA is prevalent among commercial vehicle drivers who are behind the wheel for long periods of time.   The sleep laboratory consultants are tasked with advising OSA patients to only drive when they are safe to do so but at the moment there are no good objective tests to help make these decisions

Our study will use a smart phone application to monitor driving behaviour in much the same way that ‘black boxes’,  often  associated with young drivers’  insurance, operate.   If the app is effective it will have a number of uses. It may be able to assure us that people with sleep apnoea are still safe to drive while they are waiting for treatment or if they chose weight loss instead of more rapid treatment options. It might be suitable for screening at risk populations for sleepy driving behaviour that may prompt referral to the sleep laboratory. Commercial drivers would be one possible user group. With appropriate alarms it could give useful feedback to any driver who is a below par behind the wheel and needs to take a break, get some caffeine and maybe even have a short nap before driving any further.

 We are setting up pilot studies at the moment. Before we study patients with sleep apnoea we are hoping to test the app with hospital staff, specifically shift workers and control non shift workers, as there is some evidence shift workers may have their driving performance impaired in a similar way to OSA patients. This will be a good first test for the app.

As the pilot takes off, we will be looking for hospital staff both shift workers and non-shift workers (should cover almost everyone!) to volunteer for our pilot. If you are interested in taking part please let me know and when the app becomes available I will send it your way. We would be very grateful for your help and will even give you your driving performance report as a little incentive. So for those who think they are a good driver, you now have the chance to prove it!

The study is funded by a 20:20 European Union project grant.  It will be a collaboration with the Track and Know consortium, Dr I an Smith in the RSSC and Dr Tristan Bekenschtein of Cambridge Psychology Dept


Safe driving,

Kieran  (Kieran.lee@nhs.net) (RSSC research associate).


Images of what the app will look like:

Patients / participants will need to click start tracking at the beginning of a journey and stop once they have arrived. Data sending can be delayed until connected to Wi-Fi to avoid any extra data charges, and the app can be run in the background so the phone can still be used for navigation and audio whilst traveling.