AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, today launched a unique web-based tool designed to cut the number of doctors suffering fatigue, and make hospitals safer for patients and doctors.
The AMA's new Fatigue Risk Assessment website allows doctors to track their work, on-call, recreational, and sleeping hours over a week, and determine whether their work arrangements are placing them at risk of serious fatigue.
In a national survey last year, the AMA discovered close to two-thirds of hospital doctors were at significant or high risk of fatigue due to long unbroken shifts and excessive working hours.
"Unfortunately, fatigue continues to be accepted as a routine part of a hospital doctor's working life," Dr Haikerwal said.
"The effect of extreme fatigue on a person's reaction times, attention and judgement is similar to the effect of alcohol - a comparison that brings home the seriousness of onerous schedules for doctors.
"Fatigue may risk patient safety. In the long term, unrelenting hours can affect doctors' mental and physical wellbeing, and may put junior doctors off pursuing a career in medicine at a time when Australia needs all the doctors it can get."
The new website will help hospital doctors quickly and anonymously determine whether they're at risk of serious fatigue, and obtain a print-out of their risk level, Dr Haikerwal said.
"It empowers doctors, particularly young doctors, to negotiate with hospital management for improved rosters, and ensure patient safety is not endangered by fatigue brought on by excessively long shifts and demanding rosters," he said.
"Doctors should contact the AMA if they're concerned about their hospital's response."
A serious approach to safe hours is well overdue in the health industry, Dr Haikerwal said.
"Pilots and train drivers are not allowed to work long shifts or push through extreme fatigue, because they have other people's lives in their hands when they're at work," he said.
"Equally, hospitals have a responsibility to ensure patients receive the best possible care from doctors who are well-rested and alert.
"Sensible, safe rosters benefit patients, doctors and hospitals."