Staff Members Wasting Time on the Internet? What to Do

Leigh Page


February 13, 2013

In This Article


Let's face it: Plenty of staff members are spending valuable work time fooling around on the Internet. Whether you're concerned that they're frittering away your practice's money or you're annoyed that work isn't getting done because employees are busy updating their Facebook pages or shopping online, misuse of the Internet at a medical practice is widespread.

"An employee can get online, start following links, and without realizing it, suddenly 20 minutes are gone," says Susanne Madden, president and CEO of the Verden Group, a practice management consultant in Nyack, New York.

Could this be happening in your practice? Sixty-four percent of US workers said that every day at work, they visit websites not related to their job, according to a 2012 survey by[1] The number was higher for men (69%) than for women (62%), and markedly higher for younger vs older workers: 75% for those aged 26-35 years vs 55% for those aged 56 years or older.

Internet cruising can use up a substantial amount of time. In the survey,[1] 21% said they do it for as many as 5 hours a week; 29% do it for up to 2 hours a week; and 39% said they do it for up to 1 hour a week.

In addition to ruining productivity, there can be plenty of collateral damage. Online employees can crash their computers by accessing bandwidth-eating videos or downloading files infected with viruses or spyware. Then there are the legal risks that involve conflicts between employees on email or Facebook, or pictures taken from porn sites and emailed to someone else in the office. This can lead to expensive lawsuits alleging sexual harassment or a hostile work environment.

Internet-besotted employees can harm customer service. Madden gives the example of a front-desk person updating her Facebook page while a patient is trying to check in. There are also serious quality concerns. "You don't want someone operating an insulin pump distracted by notifications on their iPhone," says Phil Baumann, RN, president of Health Is Social, a Web presence consultancy for practices and hospitals, based in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.

Tempting New Ways to Waste Time

Susanne Madden thinks our work culture has been transformed by the Internet. Although employees have always found ways to waste time, opportunities used to be quite limited. "They might have talked a lot on the phone, but there were only so many calls you could make," she says.

And everybody could hear you talking, says Madden. Now employees sitting quietly behind their screens have an infinite number of ways to blow away hours of time: YouTube, Netflix, Twitter, eBay, Angry Birds,, and Pandora, not to mention gambling and pornography sites.

In a medical practice, Madden says most nonphysician staff have few reasons to be online a great deal. Billing staff needs to access payer websites to verify billing information, clinical staff may need to consult medical sites, and supply managers need to look up prices. There may be occasional needs, such as updating the practice's website or attending an online webinar. But for the most part, staffers don't have much business there.

Yet, some employees try to get online whenever they can, reflecting a culture where the Internet is steadily taking over our lives. In a recent report[2] from Nielsen, a global audience measurement company, total time spent by each American on the Internet had risen by 21% just from July 2011 to July 2012. In a separate report,[3] Nielsen estimated that the average user of Facebook -- the number 1 Internet site -- spent a total of 6 hours and 40 minutes on the site just in September 2012.

Madden has not seen employees make an outright Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation online, but she has seen them make posts that annoy patients. At a practice she advises, an employee wrote a post on her Facebook page that criticized a mother for seeming overly distressed when she brought in her child for a minor complaint. Even though the employee had not identified the mother, she saw the posting, knew it was about her, and complained to the practice manager. The employee was given a warning.