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Study says emergency department staff's Facebook use is 'unacceptably high'


A new study reveals, unsurprisingly, that many healthcare workers spend their time at work on Facebook. But what was surprising was the increase in usage found in one emergency department as it became busier.

Like many other employees, healthcare workers waste a portion of their working day on personal Internet use. While this probably doesn’t come as a surprise, a new study reveals just how much time healthcare workers have spent online, namely on social networking sites like Facebook while they were on the clock.

Older studies have indicated that medical workers use the Internet during quiet periods throughout the day for non-work activities without any interference to patient care, but the Internet and how it’s used have changed dramatically since those studies were conducted.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Internet use-especially for social networking sites-is common among healthcare workers in level 4 trauma center and emergency departments, but the study authors wanted to find more specific information about usage and how it impacted patient care.

The study team monitored the net usage on 68 computers in an emergency medicine department for 15 consecutive days at the start of 2010. Over the 15-day study period, healthcare workers spent a total of 72.5 hours on Facebook, and emergency department staff cumulatively spent about 12 minutes per hour on the social networking site. Night shift workers spent more time browsing Facebook at 19.8 minutes per hour compared with day shift workers, who logged an average of 4.3 minutes per hour on the site. Notably, the emergency department studies is busiest during night shift hours, according to the study, and workers actually spent more time browsing Facebook as the emergency department became busier.

“The results of the study provided evidence that social network use in the emergency department is common, which was expected, but also that it increased as patient volumes and acuity increased, which was unexpected,” study authors note. “This unanticipated finding warrants further investigation since increased patient volume and acuity seemed to prompt healthcare workers to seek distractions or opportunities for cognitive time-outs, which is something that social networks provide. It is possible that these time-outs lead to improved worker functioning, but of more concern is that it may also represent a compromise of patient care.”

The study suggests further research into whether applications like Facebook should be relegated to break rooms or other designated spaces for non-work functions.

“While such a study would not and could not control access to online applications using mobile or cellular devices, which increasingly account for increasing amounts of traffic to social networking and other sites, it could send a message to healthcare workers that judicious use of accessing Internet sites is important for high quality care,” the study concludes. “It is our opinion that this level of Facebook use is unacceptably high in clinical spaces, and as such, computer workstations in patient-care space should limit access to online social networking and other forms of entertainment.”

The study was led by Erik Black, PhD, at the University of Florida and was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Other contributors include Jennifer Light, MD; Nicole Paradise Black, MD, MEd; and Lindsay Thompson, MD, MS.



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