Web Blocking at Work. Is it Compatible with Modern Medical Practice?

I’ll be the first to admit that I am heavily dependent on technology. My smartphone is an extension of my brain and I go into a state of confused panic when the battery goes flat or if I’m in an internet dead zone. My whole life is online; my calendar, to-do list and phone-book are on Google and I have a “paperless” home office where everything is scanned into the cloud.  I listen to music on Spotify and I watch episodes of my favourite TV programs on my tablet. Google maps is my street directory and I read books on my Kindle. Youtube has taught me how to plaster my walls,  make perfect caramel and play the guitar. I use apps to find a restaurant for dinner, track my fitness progress, jot-down notes and turn my phone into a torch when it’s dark.

It’s not just my personal life which benefits from technology; I’m increasingly using social media for professional education and work-related activities, and I’m not alone. The Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM) movement continues to gain momentum, the medical blogging community is expanding all the time and more and more doctors are interacting and collaborating via Twitter.

Imagine my difficulty, then, when I started at  new practice recently and encountered the most restrictive internet and computer usage policy I have ever seen. The full page document outlines in great detail what can and can’t be done with the work computers. Points range from the obvious (eg don’t download pornography or do anything illegal) to the completely impractical (eg don’t connect any USB devices to the computer without having them checked for viruses first). I also felt it somewhat unnecessary to be informed that “not all information on the internet is accurate and reliable.”

On top of that, there is a very strict system of website blocking in place, including:

  • Facebook, Twitter and Youtube
  • Dropbox, Google Drive
  • Google Calendar
  • WordPress or blog sites of any description
  • Gmail, or webmail of any kind
  • Any website that sells anything

computer edited

Now, I can understand the rationale for a policy forbidding illegal or disreputable activities, and I can also see why they would want to block potential time wasters such as online games and Facebook. Our local public hospitals do the same. However, this policy is much more strict and what they don’t seem to appreciate is how useful, or I would argue essential, some of these resources are to modern practice.

A few examples where I would use the blocked activities for directly improving patient care:

  • Printing off patient information sheets from the collection in my Dropbox folder
  • Referring to my GP exam study notes in my Google Drive to remind myself of the management approach for a certain condition
  • Emailing my peers or mentors for advice when encountering tricky clinical questions
  • Helping patients to find online support groups for their condition (many of which are blocked as “shopping” or “social networking”)
  • Refreshing my memory by watching an instructional Youtube video before performing a procedure
  • Plugging in my camera to upload photos of patients rashes / xrays etc to send to specialists for opinion or online consultation

In addition there are a heap more computer based activities which, although not directly related to seeing and billing patients, are arguably work-related and would be perfectly reasonable to do while at work during a break in consulting or during the lunch break, such as reading interesting FOAM blogs or debating clinical questions on Twitter.

The practice is obviously very concerned about cyber-security, and I wonder if maybe they’ve had some kind of terrible computer virus incident in the past that has made them so conservative. However, as we in the medical business know, everything is about the balance of risks and benefits and I would argue that that they haven’t got the balance quite right.

Luckily, I’m just here for 3 weeks before I move on to the next locum job, so it’s not something I’ll have to manage for long. However, if I was considering staying more long term, I’d have to say that the internet policy is a bit of a deal breaker for me and would be a major deterrent from coming back to work here again.

We locums get to see so many different types of practices which gives us a pretty unique perspective on the pros and cons of different places. Unfortunately I fear that unless this policy is relaxed, a lot of younger up-and-coming and / or technologically enlightened doctors might be put off, which would be a real shame for an otherwise fantastic practice.

So, my tech-savvy blog-embracing readers… tell me: would this type of internet policy deter you from working in a particular practice? Or alternately, do you think that all practices should be taking such pro-active steps to reduce the risk of cyber-security mischief? What online / computer resources do you think are essential for your practice? Is there anything you think should be blocked in the workplace? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

6 thoughts on “Web Blocking at Work. Is it Compatible with Modern Medical Practice?

  1. Not just GP clinics – many EDs dont allow access to youtube, vimeo, googlemail etc – this is a shame, as many FOAMed resources rely on these AND ability to download

    Even more importantly, in true remote areas (those most likely to benefit from FOAMed), internet speed and access can be woeful

    Just podcast on this with my mate Jamie Doube who works w Antarctic Division and various other organisations in austere environs – they have most to benefit as remote clinicians, but often cant access content as web speed too slow for content-rich sites

    Similarly less tech-savvy docs cant bypass the usual limiters on downloading from youtube etc – making accessing resources like JAM (just a minute medicine) videos impossible.

    We need to bear this in mind when creating FOAMed resources

  2. Most hospitals in Australia block these sites as a cost cutting measure. The IT infrastructure and support, even in Major metropolitan hospitals, is so bad that it can’t cope with the ever increasing traffic. Compare this to the situation in Stockholm. The hospital I worked in had extremely fast WiFi, which was open to anyone: Hospital staff, patients, visitors, anyone. There was no password… And as far as I could tell, it was completely unrestricted. I could ask kids what their favourite TV program was and stream it without any delay on my iPhone as they were being anaesthetised. Occasionally I would let them watch too. I have given up doing this here due to speed and restrictions within the hospital. In my view hospital internet should basically be completely unrestricted, save illegal and adult content. It is the hospital’s responsibility to make sure it keeps up to allow medical staff to access medical educational content. It’s not the content creators responsibility to make sure their production meets the crazy restrictions the hospitals impose.

  3. Pingback: Pump Up The JAM - KI Doc

  4. Hey Penny,

    Great post. My current workplace is very similar – impressive firewall and no Gmail, YouTube, Streaming Video, etc. etc. I can’t exist like this either – my iPad sits next to desktop computer for when I need access to this stuff.

  5. It’s not just the medical profession with such embargoes too – schools and workplaces worldwide are all buying into such internet policies. I can see the plus on one side but I’m with you, my life is on-line, so it is a real issue! The only solution I’ve found is to carry mobile broadband when I’ve been in this situation….

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