Emergency room workers spend a whole lot of time on Facebook

May 25, 2013

The emergency department would seem, at first glance, to be one of the more bustling spaces in medicine. With multiple patients in critical condition, it seems like it would be hard for doctors and other health providers to find a spare minute.

Except it's apparently not that hard at all: A new study (flagged by Michael Ramlet of The Morning Consult) finds that for every hour emergency department workers use a computer, they spend an average of 12 minutes on Facebook -- and that time on the site actually goes up as the department becomes busier.

Researchers at the University of Florida monitored the workstations of 68 emergency department workstations for just over two weeks. They couldn't see who was using each work station -- it could have been a doctor, a nurse or another health-care worker -- but they could see what they were looking at on the computer.

Over the 15-day period, the staff cumulatively visited 9,369 Facebook pages, spending an average of one of every five minutes of computer use on the site. Usage was much higher overnight. During the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, emergency department employees spent an average of 19.8 minutes per hour on Facebook. During the day, it came down to a much smaller 4.3 minutes.

The night shift is, incidentally, when the emergency department -- at least the one in this study -- was busiest. This is what the researchers saw when they graphed the amount of Facebook use against the emergency department's Emergency Department Work Index score, or EDWIN score, a measure used by researchers to gauge how busy the department is.


That graph is the average of each of the 15 days studied. You can see in this other graph, which measures each day separately, the same phenomenon playing out repeatedly. Facebook use becomes most intense when the emergency department is busiest, at night:


So, there you have it: Yet another terrifying fact about our health-care system!

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Dylan Matthews · May 25, 2013