Monday, November 26, 2007

Black Friday or Cyber Monday?

The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally known as the busiest shopping day of the year, and has been called “Black Friday”. The term allegedly refers to the amount of traffic caused by shoppers kicking off the holiday season. Some sources say that the term also refers to the period of time that retailers will begin to be “in the black” financially. The term probably originated in Philadelphia, and can be traced to one of two newspaper articles dated November 29, 1975. Incidentally, Black Friday kicks off a very busy time for the nation’s emergency departments as well, one that extends through the first days of January.

Interestingly enough, Black Friday is NOT the busiest shopping day of the year, either in sales or in store traffic. It has been surpassed by “Cyber Monday”. Today is the day that most people returned to work after the Thanksgiving holiday. Many of them were not able or willing to get up in the dark and wait in line for the traditional retail sales. Instead, they turned to online shopping at work today.

A company known as comScore estimates that a record $700 million was spent online today by holiday shoppers. This represents an increase of 15% from last year’s Cyber Monday expenditures. Interestingly, people report that they would rather do their online shopping at work because the company computers are more secure. I find this interesting, since more than 70% of U.S. companies report that they regularly monitor employee internet use.

Emergency physicians, nurses, and staff were not shopping online today, because today is one of the busiest in the emergency department. The popular television shows leave the impression that Saturday night is the busiest time in an emergency department, but in most departments, Monday is the busiest day of the week.

Over my twenty year career, I have developed my own set of rules regarding the vagaries of life in the emergency department. One of “Gardner’s Laws” is this:

Traffic in the E.D. equals traffic on the street.

That is, when more people are out doing things, more people in up in the E.D. That is why the Fourth of July is a busier day in the E.D. than New Year’s Eve. The Fourth of July happens during a warm time of the year, when people participate in outdoor activities, drink alcohol, travel, and play with flammable, exploding devices. Granted, more alcohol is probably consumed on New Year’s Eve, but it is cold outside. New Year’s is a largely adult holiday and the pop of champagne is not the same as the pop of a firecracker.

Any emergency doc will tell you that working a holiday may be bad, but working the first Monday after a holiday is worse. People who have been ill through the holiday have to go back to work, and some of them find that they are too ill to do so. When they call their primary care provider for an appointment, they find that a great many people have exactly the same problem. So, they end up in the emergency department.

Now I’m faced with a new challenge. If traffic in the E.D. equals traffic in the street, what is the significance of cyber traffic? I wonder if the nation’s emergency departments were less busy today, since more people went back to work in order to get their holiday shopping done………

Just food for thought. Have a great holiday season, and please be safe.

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