Facebook use in the Emergency Department


New study shows that emergency department workers are on Facebook quite a bit. They spend an average of 4.3 minutes per hour on Facebook during day hours, which is just under an hour out of every 12 hour shift. However, during night shifts when the study hospital was busier, the staff spent an average of almost 20 minutes per hour — just on Facebook.

So are the results good news based on other studies showing that engaging in brief mindless tasks decrease worker fatigue and stress while increasing worker productivity and happiness? Or are the results bad news suggesting that patients aren’t getting full attention?

I also wonder about how the study determined active use of Facebook. Researchers set limits of 3 minutes for each interaction with Facebook, so someone checking their status for a few seconds would have been deemed to have spent 3 minutes on Facebook, as would someone who surfed Facebook for the entire shift. My guess based on my observation of computer use in my emergency departments is that the methods caused the times of use to be overestimated.

And the study also reminds us of another important point … when you’re on a work computer, what you’re doing is being watched.


  1. You’ve got it backwards: if the user spend 10 seconds on a single page (glancing at someone’s picture), it would register as 10 seconds, but if they spent 20 minutes on a particular page (opening someone’s profile and then getting called away from the desk) it would only count as three minutes. They assumed that no-one would ever choose to spend more than three minutes on a single Facebook page before clicking a link to venture elsewhere; probably a reasonable idea. No user sits there staring at a single post (except when I’m dissecting a tough ECG someone posted), instead they browse. I don’t know how games work on there, but that method does introduce a significant under-estimation if someone does indeed interact with a single page for a long period of time.

  2. Facebook and most personal e-mail websites are blocked at our facility (part of a large system in the midwest) and being “on” Facebook while on the clock is technically outlawed … but smartphones make both the blockage and the rule toothless. In our ED, I’d say whether or not FB use decreases stress or detracts from patient care depends entirely on the user – just like with any potential work distraction.

  3. This study is completely useless. I think it actually shows that we DON’T use Facebook that much. If it was at an academic center (likely Shands) you can assume it’s anywhere from a 70,000 to 100,000 visit center (Shands is 80K?). So that’s what 30 people (nurses, residents, clerks, consultants, etc) per 12 hour shift? 60 people per day? If only half use facebook, that’s only ~9 min facebook per shift. Totally reasonable. I mean really, this was done with 68 workstations; so only 5 minutes PER DAY per station. Again, I think this study highlights that we don’t use Facebook. Can anyone say, “high dose Augmentin for ear infections?”

    Honestly, you could do this study with anything. In fact, I saw this study:
    “Bathroom usage in a busy ED.” Over 15 days in a busy academic center, 4 unisex, 6 men’s and 6 women’s bathrooms were observed. Staff visited the bathroom 2700 times. Staff spent a total of 5625 minutes of bathroom usage. This study suggests that 15 minutes out of every hour is spent in the bathroom.

    Sounds bad on paper, but it’s only 60 people going to the bathroom 3 times per 12 hours spending ~2 minutes in the bathroom.

    The Facebook study comes out to 15 people per shift using Facebook for 9 minutes. Totally reasonable.

    Perhaps people were using Facebook in the bathroom, right?

    • Agreed.

      I would also like to see the study of how much time smokers spend outside smoking. I’m positive I spend less time on FB and personal email than any smoker spends outside.

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