Facebook Use by Hospital Workers Increases When ER Is Busy: Study

Hospital staff spent a significant amount of time on Facebook, especially when ERs became more crowded with patients, a University of Florida study revealed.


Emergency room personnel at an academic medical facility spent a lot of time on Facebook when the ER became busy, according to a University of Florida study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Facebook use accounted for a substantive percentage of staff time during the 15-day observation period and increased with higher patient volume and severity in the ED, according to the report, which is based on analysis of 68 physician and staff workstations from Dec. 29, 2009, to Jan. 12, 2010, for an emergency department and level 4 trauma center at the University of Florida Health Science Center in Gainesville, Fla.

The ED work index scores and time spent on Facebook had a positive correlation, the study found. Hospital workers spent 72.5 hours on Facebook while going to the site 9,369 times. The data was anonymous, so researchers were unaware if users were doctors, nurses or other staff.

"We found the positive correlation between ED business and time spent on Facebook interesting," Dr. Erik W. Black, assistant professor of pediatrics and educational technology, at the University of Florida, told eWEEK in an email.

When emergency rooms become more hectic, time on Facebook could be a healthy distraction as long as patients' needs are being met, Black suggested.

"EDs are high-stress environments—it is possible that as individuals became busy, they experienced an increase in stress and/or cognitive load associated with their activities," Black said. "One way that we can naturally de-stress or offload excessive cognitive information is to engage in distractions."

Further research will try to determine if additional time on Facebook by clinicians leads to negative consequences for patients or whether social media is a healthy diversion from workplace stresses for clinicians, Black said.

"At the end of the day, we just don't know what led to the increases. Maybe individuals were just plain unhappy and de-motivated, so they turned to social media," Black said. "We need the opportunity to engage in additional research so we can better understand why this phenomenon occurred and if it does indeed have negative consequences for patient care and/or patient satisfaction."

Researchers calculated the amount of Facebook use by obtaining data from the University of Florida Health Science Center's SurfControl Web-filtering software, according to the report. SurfControl allows IT administrators to categorize, track and limit Web access.

The authors determined that the level of Facebook use is too high for a clinical environment.

"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 authors wrote.

Despite more research needed on the effects of Facebook use, the authors acknowledged the presence of Web filters such as SurfControl to limit social media activities, but communication about the use of the online sites during business hours may be more efficient to limit misuse, the report stated.

"Given that many individuals now access online entertainment applications via mobile phones, the development and implementation of a comprehensive workplace Internet use policy, one that includes the use of personal mobile devices, should be considered," the report stated.