Would you let your employer biochip you?
The future of health tracking tech
Wisconsin vending machine company Three Square Market made headlines recently for offering to biochip its employees, implanting the microchip technology into their hands. The biochips will allow employees to enter office buildings and tap-to-pay for the company’s break room vending options, but employees can also customize the chips, using them to unlock their cars or for other functions.
With more employers implementing wellness and health tracking programs, it’s worth asking — what if these biochips were used to track your health data? It may sound like a sci-fi plot, but in function, an implanted health tracker isn’t so different from a Fitbit, which many employers provide to their employees already.
Here’s the big question, both today and in the future of health tracking technology: How much access to your health data are you willing to give your employer?
The rise of workplace wellness
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, more than two-thirds of U.S. employers offer wellness programs. Another report found wellness and health-related benefits were the most likely to increase in the next 12 months.
Why are employers investing in wellness programs? As health care costs continue to soar, employers — who provide the majority of health insurance in the U.S .— are looking for opportunities to bend the cost curve. Focusing on wellness and preventing chronic disease can reduce costs over time as employee health improves.
The most common wellness activities focus on weight loss and disease prevention. They can range from providing healthier snacks in the break room to offering biometric screenings and personalized wellness coaching.
While some employees appreciate the focus on their health, others feel the efforts can be intrusive. This is what makes Three Square Market’s biochipping experiment so interesting.
Commercial biochips aren’t currently tracking health data, but it’s not inconceivable that this technology could advance beyond unlocking office doors and into the realm of biometrics.
What if your employer could track your sugar intake, or the level of nicotine in your blood? If they pay for the bulk of your health plan, should they have access to this data?
Privacy is still the standard — for now
Presently, the answer is no. Personal health records are private, but aggregate, non-identified information can be collected by employers.
Wellness initiatives in the workplace are required to be voluntary, which means you can’t face any punitive action for refusing to participate. But employers can use incentives to encourage action, like getting a biometric screening or going through a smoking cessation program.
Incentives can be financial, like reduced health plan costs, gift cards or cash, or perks like paid time off or preferred parking. However, these incentives could feel punitive to some employees. If you are getting significant discounts off your health plan for participating in wellness programs, is that effectively punishing those who aren’t?
The current legal standard is that incentives are okay. This means that employers can offer discounts or other perks to you for undergoing a biometric screening. Then, if you do, your boss can pull all of the biometric data to evaluate the health of your workplace. She won’t know whether you personally have high blood pressure, but she could discover that in aggregate, your workplace has higher rates than average.
Currently, conducting biometric screenings can be a bit of a hassle. But with an implant, collecting workforce health data could be instantaneous.
Depending on the incentive, would you let your employer microchip you?
Some organizations already provide complimentary fitness trackers, and the rise of these wearable devices suggests employers and employees alike are interested in more data about their health.
Again, no one could force you to wear a tracker or get implanted. But employees already voluntarily provide their information for “biggest loser” competitions and other wellness initiatives.
If tracking your own data was easier with a biochip than a wearable — no charging, you wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting it —w ould you want one? What if your employer was willing to foot the bill?
As technology continues to advance in the health care space, these are some of the questions consumers will be asked. health care privacy is important. But as fast as technology is developing, this kind of information will become accessible to many stakeholders, possibly before we’re ready to manage it effectively.
This article was originally published in The Tennessean. If you enjoyed this post, you may like "Losing Farm Bureau health coverage? What Nashville consumers should know."
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