Editor's Note:  I've heard doctors and dentists complain that they could get by with half their employees if Facebook didn't exist.  Although it's harder to monitor smartphone usage, it is relatively easy to ensure no one is using YOUR computers to waste time on the internet.  Carla Yepinski, a recent graduate of Kentucky State in communications and computer science, is the primary researcher and writer with Network Monitoring where she focuses on monitoring systems and network security tools.  In this post, she describes a number of software solutions that can be used to monitor your employees' computer usage.  By way of disclosure, her site makes money by selling the products detailed below.  I have no financial relationship with either Ms. Yepinski or Network Monitoring.

Internet access in medical practices makes tasks like verifying customers’ insurance, claims submissions, interactive care services and even ordering medical supplies much more efficient.  However, social media sites, YouTube and idle surfing can decrease office productivity.

There are many software solutions that can give you control over internet usage in your office, but selecting the best one for your needs can be tricky. You don’t want to waste money on a cheap product that isn’t going to stop Facebook, but you don’t want to spend too much on an expensive product with corporate features not useful to a small practice.

Here is a quick, easy breakdown of five top-rated employee monitoring software programs and tips on how to choose the best for your needs. The universal perk of these programs is stealth monitor, whereby your employees won’t be able to tell you are watching their computers.

1. Staff Cop

Licensing: $43 for 1 computer. $39 each for 2-20 computers.

This cheaper software monitors employee online activity, including website addresses, individual page titles and time of website access. It also allows you to monitor e-mail activity.  It works best with POP clients like MS Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird rather than web-based clients like Yahoo! and Gmail, where documentation tends to be sporadic and less detailed.  StaffCop can take screen shots of users’ desktops, but sometimes it will freeze up both the server (you) and client (employee) computers.

The highlight of this software is the customizable monitoring reports (search tracking, time spent per application, file uploads and downloads, usb connections, etc.) and the ability to e-mail them anywhere. The major drawback to this one is that it doesn’t offer any website blocking or filtering.

Purchase this software if:  You’re in need of a basic monitoring service at a reasonable price and want only to monitor, not actually block, specific sites.

2. Spytech NetVizor

$295 for 1-5 computers ($59/computer for 5 computers)

$495 for 6-10 computers ($49.50 each for 10 computers)

$895 for 11-25 computers ($35.80 each for 25 computers)

This program is easy to install and has a friendly user interface. NetVizor collects data by username, not just by workstation, so if different employees are on various stations throughout the day, you know exactly who is doing what and where.

NetVizor can record everything from keystrokes to site visits and file downloads. Like a few of the more expensive ones listed below, you can filter and block websites and programs. Get instant alerts when changes that you specify (like a file being installed or a drive being connected) occur.

Purchase this software if: You have 5, 10 or 25 computers (or as close to these numbers as you can get) to get the most for your money, you want to monitor and control without at an affordable rate per machine, and you want instant updates on network activity.

3. Work Examiner Standard

Licensing: $60 each for 1-2 computers. $45 each for 3-24 computers.

Work Examiner Standard is designed to optimally handle 3-50 PCs.  While it’s easy to install, the database management interface (called Firebird) may be a bit difficult for novice computer users.

The appeal of this application lies in the customizable filtering and blocking capabilities. You can specify which websites employees can visit and even how long they are allowed to stay on them. Add sites like Facebook and Twitter to the list of blocked sites to prevent easy distractions from productivity.

Purchase this software if: You operate a smaller to mid-size practice and don’t mind paying a little extra for not having to babysit internet usage.

4. IMonitor EAM

Licensing: $199.95 for up to 3 computers ($66.65/computer), $349.95 for up to 6 computers (58.33/computer). $799.95 for up to 12 computers ($66.67/computer).

Once installed, IMonitor will scan your network and automatically add computers to view.  You can see what’s going on in real time and store the data for future reference. Set up automatic upload times and manually save what’s going on as needed. The live screenshots feature on this program works much better than Staff Cop, but like Staff Cop, you cannot restrict specific websites.

You can, however, block access to entire applications, so if your employees don’t need to use an internet browser to do their job, you can ensure they have no use of such programs.

Purchase this software if: You have a small office with fewer computers (since you have to buy multiple licenses together), you want to block browser and program access all together, and there are times when you’d like to watch real-time activities and save screen shots of employee computers.

5. Sonar

Licensing: $147 per computer for 1-9 computers. $99 per computer for 10-24 computers.

This elite program monitors, blocks and filters internet activity. The software is installed on your computer, but it records information to your online account. You can view, download or print this information at any time.

Like IMonitor, you can completely block certain programs, but you get the added feature of customizable settings. For example, if you don’t mind your employees using iTunes before the office opens or after it closes, you can specify which times it is available.

You can also block specific websites or broader categories (social media, pornography, games, etc). Just like in the program settings, you can set up specific times that employees can be online.

Purchase this software if: You have a bigger budget and want complete control over computers and internet usage, you like reports to sync at the same time each day, and want the freedom to check reports online whenever you like.

My recommendation

In my opinion, the best overall performer for the money is Spytech NetVizor. You get the most useful features offered in all of the other programs for a reasonable price. The customizable reports allow you to view as much or as little information as you like, and you can block programs and websites, an option not offered on the cheapest program but that is offered with the most expensive. While you can’t have absolute control over every detail with NetVizor, you have enough to ensure employee productivity, and you haven’t spent too much money or time that could otherwise be invested in patient care.

Editor's Note:  Have you had this issue with your employees?  How have you addressed it?  Policies?  Software?  Add your comments below:

Image Credit: Lotusblack, via Wikimedia, CC-BY-SA