Objective: Psychiatric illness and the use of psychotropic medication are recognised as factors that may impair driving ability. Clinicians in the UK have a legal duty to advise patients on the effects of illness and prescribed medication on driving ability. Although clinicians in Ireland have no equivalent legal obligations, good medical practice suggests that doctors should be aware of whether patients are active drivers, and issue appropriate advice, supported by adequate documentation in clinical notes.
Method: The initial phase of the study analysed 44 outpatient records and 48 discharge records to ascertain the level of documentation regarding driving status, and advice given to patients regarding the effect of illness or medication on driving ability. The second phase involved distribution of an anonymous questionnaire to 18 psychiatrists employed in the acute psychiatric unit setting.
Results: Although there was minimal documentation regarding the potential effect of illness on driving ability, more than 50% of case notes revealed documented advice to patients regarding side-effects of medication and driving ability. Over 50% of case notes contained advice about medication compliance, but none contained cautionary advice about operating machinery. All psychiatrists admitted not being aware of the driving status of every patient they reviewed. Over 50% admitted to advising patients of the effect of illness or medication on driving ability, but fewer reported documenting this advice on every occasion. All psychiatrists reported that they would benefit from training in this area.
Conclusion: This study suggests that there is underdocumentation of advice given to patients regarding the effect of their symptoms or medication on driving ability. Clinicians need to improve their awareness of patients' driving status, in addition to receiving training on what their responsibilities are in this regard.