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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Social Networking and Work

Published July 5, 2009 4:09 PM by Glen McDaniel

Millions of people now practice social networking . In fact just about everyone I know has a profile on one or more sites like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter.

Some networkers are more aggressive and dedicated than others and spend hours each week updating profiles and announcing to the world everything from their last meal to their emotional state. They also comment on the activities of others, offering advice or social commentary. Networks of "friends" constantly grow to include family, friends and acquaintances - old, new and newly rediscovered.

Many businesses have figured out how to taken advantage of the ever-expanding social networking web to attract specially targeted  "fans" who visit their sites rich with information or marketing material.

Social networking sites produce a unique challenge for employers; challenges that go way beyond employees' First Amendment rights of free expression -away from the workplace. For one thing, accessing social networking sites from work poses very real business concerns

  • Reduced bandwidth to and from the company's servers
  • Security challenges such as phising and access to confidential information about patients or  employees; or theft of proprietary information and intellectual property
  • Decreased productivity as employees network on company time

Some organizations now block social networking sites from being accessed, even by those employees who have otherwise free access to the Internet at work. The argument that cell phones might interfere with critical medical equipment has gone back and forth for years. Now the use of cell phones at work is being revisited again by organizations, but, this time, for the added reason that an increasing number of employees now use cell phones to tweet and visit websites while at work.

Another consideration is that of the employee's social networking profile. Whatever an employee writes might reflect on their employer, especially if they explicitly state where they work. Engaging in political, religious or risqué discourse might be "politically incorrect" or even adversely affect an employee's evaluation at work. What about supervisors fraternizing with subordinates - using the excuse" after all we are not at work". Can you truly separate personal and professional? Crossing the line could be awkward at best. Blending both worlds could have dire consequences.

Employees have been known to use their profiles to comment on work events or office politics. It is easy to inadvertently describe details at work that violate patient confidentiality or otherwise open the organization to legal risk. Is it OK to badmouth a boss or colleague if names are disguised?

Increasingly organizations are developing (and training employees) on social networking policies. Such policies must address the delicate balance between personal right and professional obligation. Such gray areas will only increase as the Internet continues to change how we communicate and share our lives. But that is the world we currently live in.

7 comments

Keeping your cell phone on in a manner that does not distract work from being done (i.e. in one's pocket and not making loud noise) - AND using common sense and not touching it with gloves on (or without washing your hands first) absolutely makes perfect sense to me.

By the way, three years ago I worked in the Microbiology department of Duke University Health System's laboratory, which assigned Clostridium difficile toxin assays to our evening shift.  We also handled who knows how many vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus surveillance cultures. (During the course of our extremely busy shifts, we would receive 50% of a typical day's specimens.)

How many of your facilities have handwashing sinks with foot pedals to turn the water on/off, eliminating the possibility of a faucet handle becoming a "fomite" and obviating the environmentally detrimental use of excess paper towels? (Duke has had such a sink in their microbiology laboratory since at least 2006 when I worked there.)

It's beautiful out there in Colorado, isn't it? I've never been there, but my hometown is Fayetteville, NC.  Interestingly, my first contract/traveling (i.e. more highly paid) assignment in October 2007 was in Lafayette, IN. :) However, I have settled back down here in the good old South to be closer to my little girl and her father (my ex-husband).

Stephanie Mathis, MT(ASCP), Generalist - Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Danville Regional Medical Center July 23, 2009 12:39 AM
Danville VA

I think a cell phone kept on vibrate or silent and in a pocket is not a bad thing.  I know with 3 teenagers at home it was nice to have a text message after school from them.  Usually one of them would be staying behind for sports or tutoring, one would be headed home and one would be headed to work.  If something unexpectd came up we were able to be in contact.  They knew that I might not always be able to get in touch with them immediately but if they left me a text message I would eventually get back to them.  

Just like with any new technology rules and regs will come into play but good old fashioned common sense needs to prevail.

Eileen, MT Sr July 20, 2009 4:58 PM
Richmond VA

While I don't think we need to be treated like infants in or school children in Lafayetee, NC, I do feel that personal use of cell phones in a laboratory should be prohibited for many reasons.  1) distraction and decreased productivity as mentioned by "annoyed".  2) 4 "F's", food, ***, fibers, and fomites.  Pay attention to the 4th F.  Phones make notorious fomites for passage of disease onto yourself.  You would not eat a pizza slice or mouth pipette in a lab today, yet I see many people grabbing/using cell phones in labs with their gloves still on.   Not sure about you, but I constantly have serum/plasma/whole blood stains and uring on my gloves from bad EDTA tops and badly designed urine containers.  THink about when you get home, after you've washed your work germs off, and touch your cell phone again while prepping food for yourself and family.  Anyone care for the noon CDIFF or MRSA germ a la carte?  %0d%0a%0d%0aMore importantly than having a phone gustapo or director compfiscate our phones, why wouldn't you all just use your professional judgement and not use cell phones in the lab, just like you left your lunch in the break room refrigerator.  You are professionals with credentials as MT(ASCP), correct?

Jared Waterman, generalist - MT July 18, 2009 12:21 PM
Vail CO

People should definitely come to work in order to actually do whatever their job is and earn their paycheck (not update Facebook 100 times/day, etc.); I'm not arguing against that.  However, in an emergency, would YOU not want to find out whether a family member of yours is in some sort of dangerous situation via a call or text message directly to your cell phone rather than have someone get the message to you at some undetermined time in the future after he/she is finished handling business calls?  

I think asking all employees to turn their cell phones on "silent" or "vibrate" during work hours should suffice rather than demanding that they "leave phones in their lockers."  Also, I hate to imagine how easily you must get stressed out over other little things.  I used to be that way myself until I learned the hard way that "sweating the small stuff" (and most of it IS small) will eat you alive if you allow it to do so.

We must be spoiled at the lab where I work...our specimen processors bring our work to us rather than our having to go and get it. LOL!

Things will never go back to the way they were 20-plus or whatever years ago, so we should focus on the positive aspects of new technology and the many ways it can improve the field of medical laboratory science - NOT constantly complain about it.

Stephanie Mathis, MT(ASCP), Generalist - Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Danville Regional Medical Center July 7, 2009 10:31 AM
Danville VA

What I was getting at was how many employees in many different workplaces (not just lab) waste company time on any website other than ones that they need to complete their job tasks.  %0d%0a%0d%0aI wish we had access to those sites (for those of us who do not have an internet login) for clinical purposes.  I don't know how many times it would have been helpful to be able to Google or research a condition or abnormal lab result so as to be able to turn this anomoly into a learning experience, instead of merely repeating it and verifying it and forgetting about it.  I dont mind reading clinical articles, research articles or continuining ed articles to keep up on advances in our field.%0d%0a%0d%0aSince when is Facebook, constant text messaging, Myspace, Yahoo Mail, creating ringtones, online poker, CNN.com, eBay, et al. useful to the work at hand?  I see it every shift at work.  There is nothing more annoying than seeing someone constantly at their terminal 'surfing' instead of getting up to get samples from processing, answer the -work- phone or walk around to see if any other department could use a hand.  %0d%0a%0d%0aSecondly, and you may point your finger at being old school, but constantly hearing a ring tone or text message alert because someone feels the need to be txt'ing at work gets annoying. Obviously it is an insecurity thing that these people feel the need to make everyone aware that they are 'important' and are getting constant text messages, but turn it off until break and leave it in your locker.  %0d%0a%0d%0aNo, you don't need to update your Facebook status numerous times while you are at work to tell the world how you are doing.  If it were a real 'emergency' whoever should have your work number anyways.  How did we do it ten-plus years ago?

Annoyed July 7, 2009 8:12 AM

I wonder if the "annoyed" obviously older recent commenter realizes that Internet use CAN be pertinent to our jobs... as in continuing education activities on http://www.ascp.org or http://www.medialabinc.net (among many others, I'm sure).

Also, I would like to hear from medical laboratories that PROHIBIT cell phone usage under ANY circumstances as to how this policy is enforced.  Are cell phones confiscated at the door by the laboratory director or a designated supervisor, as they are by the principal of a Christian school in Fayetteville, NC who recently enacted a cell phone ban?  Children in school are one thing, but I would think adults being "banned" from using cell phones could open a company up to who knows how many lawsuits if these employees cannot be reached in the event of an emergency.

Stephanie Mathis, MT(ASCP), Generalist - Clinical Laboratory Scientist, Danville Regional Medical Center July 7, 2009 5:38 AM
Danville VA

I fully support organization's reasons for blocking internet access to not only social networking sites, but to anything unnecessary to performing their work description in general.

Our work computers, when singing on, inform you of your basic rights and the fact that you can and will be spied on and anything you send or receive can and will be filtered and can be retained for legal purposes.   And this goes for those that have unlimited internet sign-ons (or for those that don't have them but use other peoples') as well as those that don't have sign ons and can view select sites that are allowed by the system.

I cover myself by not using the work computers at all for internet, email or surfing.  You never know when something you did, said, searched or something someone sent you will get you in dutch.  I do not make many general co-workers 'friends' on these sites or limit what they can see, mainly because what I do at work I do at work and what I do at home, I do at home.  

It amazes me at how much time some people must spend online while at work. This goes for general employees, supervisors as well as the uppers.  It like walking in on someone and seeing them quickly exiting out of Yahoo Mail, Facebook, Bored.com, gaming sites, WebBanking or my personal favorite.... eBay.  

You mentioned about network blocks, but now employees are able to view these sites on their cell phones and, thus, can be sneakier about it because the size and design of their phones allows for them to be hidden or closed quickly.  Cell phone use (talking, texting, photo'ing, internetting) should (and is by many) prohibitted for obvious reasons.  

One thing that I have noticed lately is employees jabbering away on their Bluetooth earpieces.  Where I believe this becomes a serious violation is in patient privacy.  Those in the immediate area may be unaware that that person is talking on it and confidential patient information may be picked up and inadvertantely overheard by those on the other end of the Bluetooth conversation.  

Nothing like the good old days of rotary phones and teletypes.  

Annoyed July 6, 2009 8:23 AM

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