Companies like Walmart and J.P. Morgan are more actively involving themselves in employee wellness.

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Companies like Walmart and J.P. Morgan are more actively involving themselves in employee wellness. They are paying firms to collect and crunch employee data to identify employee health problems and guide them toward doctors or services like weight-loss programs. Although health-privacy laws do not give employers the authority to view workers’ personal health information, they are able to get aggregated data on employees through wellness firms who have access to workers’ health data. For example, Cigna Corporation analyzed claims data for J.P. Morgan to identify employees who lacked primary-care physicians. Another company, Castlight, can identify segments of an employee population and tell an employer how many women are currently trying to have children through data that tracks women who have stopped filling birth-control prescriptions and/or who have made fertility-related searches on their app. While employees have to “opt in” to its services, some say that this option is hidden because it is linked to the use of a search function for in-network doctors and the ability to track health-care spending. Nevertheless, some employees see the benefit of being alerted to “at-risk” situations, like rising glucose levels that might indicate diabetes, or options to surgery for a given condition. In sum, the use of employee data to track employee health issues continues to be controversial.
1. What are the pros and cons of the use of employee data for health tracking?
2. Are you comfortable with the idea of employers using your data to predict your future? Is this an invasion of your privacy?
3. What, if any, health areas would you consider “off-limits” to employee wellness firms and employers?
4. Is there any potential conflict of interest between the wellness firms and employers?
5. Is there a utilitarian logic to the collection of health information (i.e., for the greater good)?

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