Bosses Can Now Harness Your Medical Data To Make Health Predictions
As personal data mining becomes more commonplace, our personal information is now swiftly passed through multiple sources and placed back into our hands before we’ve even realized that we shared it.
From a horrifying report from NASDAQ comes the news that employee wellness firms and insurers are now working with companies to mine data about employees’ prescription status, health habits, and even shopping patterns in order to make predictions about employees’ possible health problems and the cost attached.
As more companies are now being required to pay for insurance, their stake in the possible health problems of employees is higher, and many are doing everything possible within the (barely) legal parameters to stay ahead of the game, cost-wise.
Corporations like Walmart are paying firms like Castlight Healthcare to crunch employee data in order to make health predictions about their employees. These data-mining firms will then communicate with insurers, amassing predictions about employees based on their past health check ups, where they buy their groceries, whether they vote (better health and political involvement are highly linked) and other factors
The employees then have the choice to receive medical updates and predictions via an app. If accepted they can potentially receive messages warning them of their risk of diabetes, or even offering price rates and alternatives to potential surgeries (apparently spinal surgery is one of the most expensive and common concerns of employers).
Because of federal health-privacy laws, the employers themselves aren’t allowed to see the data with names attached — that’s why the need the wellness firms as a middle man. There is concern that those lines will soon be crossed, causing potentially huge promotion and job decisions being made based on people’s possible medical costs.
There have been cases in which these medical predictions have greatly helped people. In the case of Maribeth Quinn, a financial-aid executive at JFK Medical Center, it turned her health around. Nearly three years ago she received a message from her wellness app that revealed her glucose levels put her at great risk of diabetes. She’s since lost 35 pounds and is no longer pre-diabetic. “It was in my face,” she said, “That made me do something about it.”
Our superinformation highway makes it incredibly easy to handle mundane tasks online, from paying bills to sharing calendars and managing time, relieving us of the burden of having to do it ourselves. On the other hand, we’re now bombarded with creepily personal (yet completely dehumanized) advertisements suggesting we buy organic lotion because we sent one tweet with the word “Lotion.” Is this a glimpse into our dystopian future? Or is it just the way we live now?
Prevention is the best cure to any possible health problem, so in that sense this technology could be life-saving for many. But the flip side could quickly devolve into workplaces passive-aggressively bullying employees into preventing health problems that are largely predetermined by genetics. It could turn into a threat of receiving less healthcare coverage or lesser job mobility, and few things exacerbate illness more than chronic dread and stress.
The idea of more comprehensive medical knowledge and prevention methods is exciting and groundbreaking on it’s own, but in the hands of stingy employers seeking to pay lower costs for employees, it has the potential to be dangerous and manipulative.