Australia to Tired Doctors: Drink More Coffee

Health officials in Australia are telling doctors who work up to 80 hours without a break to drink up to six cups of coffee to stay awake. According to Reuters, officials say it’s the only way to cope with a doctor shortage.

In advocating the use of caffeine by doctors, the health department document said that compared with other psychoactive drugs, such as the prescription-only stimulant modafinil, caffeine was more readily available and less expensive.

Salaried Doctors Queensland, representing medicos, countered that pumping doctors full of caffeine was not an effective way to deal with fatigue and doctor shortages, often filled in Australia through recruitment overseas.

Queensland Labor Health Minister Paul Lucas said the state was aiming to train more doctors and cap hospital work shifts at 12 hours over the next two years, but had no immediate solution to fatigue and staff shortages.

"If the doctors are not there, we can't do it," he said. "We can't say we'd rather not have it as it is and create doctors out of the air."

Are you kidding me?

By the way, the Reuters article says Queensland officials issued their recommendations “after warnings that patients were dying.”

I wrote previously about the hours worked by medical residents in the United States. I described this as a lean issue involving respect for people (the overworked doctors) and what customers, meaning patients, regard as value (having an alert, well-rested doctor).

I’m sure the doctor shortage in Australia is real. But is this the best they can come up with? How about some lean initiatives that would increase the capacity of Australian hospitals, enabling them to deal with more patients in less time?

Remind me not to get sick in Australia.

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