When I was 14, I asked my parents for a radio-controlled airplane for Christmas.
Instead, they gave me flying lessons. Their gift led to my lifelong love of flying. When I graduated with my DC degree 20 years later, I recognized that I had the training and skills to perform the Class 3 medical certificate exam that all private pilots are required to have. I eventually began a somewhat lengthy communication with the FAA Flight Surgeon.
The BasicMed program is an FAA anomaly. It is the result of years of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) appealing to the FAA to simplify the Class 3 medical certificate process. When those within the FAA program would not relent, the AOPA convinced Congress to intervene.
Congress then constructed the BasicMed regulation, the purpose of which is to make flying more safe and affordable. Congress opened the door for all state-licensed physicians to be eligible to perform the BasicMed exam. Without the FAA’s support of BasicMed, this opportunity for state-licensed physicians—including DCs—would not have existed.
The BasicMed exam does not apply to all pilots. Airline transport and commercial pilots have to use the Class 3 program. But student pilots, recreational and private pilots, as well as flight instructors (who make up the majority of pilots), can obtain a BasicMed exam in lieu of obtaining a Third Class medical certificate from an FAA Aviation Medical Examiner. BasicMed does not end the First, Second and Third class medical certificate program provided by FAA Aviation Medical Examiners. It just offers eligible pilots to have a choice between taking the BasicMed and Third Class medical certificate exam.
DCs in at least 32 states can use the term “chiropractic physician.” The FAA specifically looks to the individual chiropractic physician to determine if they have the training and skills to perform the BasicMed exam, and that they are a state-licensed specialty physician. Understandably, DCs may be a little reluctant to make that jump. Fortunately, if the physician is not sure, the FAA advises them to contact their state licensing agency for further determination.
As with other DOT safety programs, the chiropractic profession should step up and support the BasicMed program to meet its purpose of helping to make flying safer and more affordable. Those who put this program together are looking to health care professions to make the program successful, and DCs can play a significant role.
The BasicMed program features a medical exam that would be described as similar to or less complex than the physical exam for commercial drivers.
The description of what needs to be examined is less precise, and there is no FAA medical guidance to use in determining when a pilot is safe to operate an aircraft. However, there are FAA aeromedical resources (to be used for informational purposes only) that are helpful. For this reason, DCs may want to take a course on how to perform the BasicMed exam. There are a number of training programs available for chiropractors who want to participate.
Not only is taking this course a great way for your profession to support pilots and a federal medical exam program, but there are benefits to the profession and to DCs in general. The FAA medical program has always been considered the gold standard in health evaluations. Participating in this program elevates the public view of doctors of chiropractic, as well as working to open other government programs to the chiropractic profession in the future.
DCs are giving pilots a greater choice in obtaining a BasicMed certificate by widening the variety of health care providers who offer it. Having more providers means that pilots can obtain their exam for less due to increased competition in the marketplace. Providers who already perform the commercial driver’s license (CDL) physical exam will find this an easy add-on to the services they already provide.
Pilots, however, are reporting difficulty in finding providers who offer the BasicMed exam as the FAA doesn’t yet offer a registery for them. Still, because the BasicMed exam is a simpler process, it is expected that many pilots will now return to flying, increasing the market size.
BasicMed is expected to promote student and recreational pilots, as well as other low-privilege pilot certificate holders who aren’t required to have a medical certificate; and those who only require a current driver’s license to fly certain aircraft can take it to upgrade to a higher pilot’s license. For the FAA, it’s a win. For pilots, it’s a win. And for the chiropractic profession, it’s a huge win.
Michael Megehee, DC, is president of TeamCME, a nationwide network of DOT medical examiners. TeamCME provides full spectrum services to CMEs providing services to the transportation industry. Megehee was a member of the FMCSA Teams who developed the basis for certification and the physician training core curriculum for the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. He can be contacted at 541-276-6032 or through TeamCME.com.