A Brave New World of Internet of Health. Are you fit to work?
Numerous devices are coming out stimulating people to control their vital signs, workloads, steps, sleep measuring slightest deviations from health equilibrium. Twenty percent of Americans are owning now a wearable medical device. 56% of those believe that by monitoring their vital signs they will increase life expectancy at least by, in average, 10 years. According to a MarketResearch.com report, the Internet of Health (IoH) market segment is poised to hit $117 billion by 2020.
Starting with sport and wellness smart bands are building a bridge between consumers and professional medicine, promising to be more than just activity trackers. Dartmouth Hitchcock, e.g., is using Microsoft Band in combination with Cortana intelligent assistant to help physicians and nurses monitoring patients remotely.
Medical professionals are setting up their companies to step into the lucrative consumer markets. Kardia Band, the first medical-grade EKG band equipped with ultrasound sensor unveiled by AliveCor, will tell you in 30 seconds if your heart works normally or you are having a cardio fibrillation. Simply press you thumb to the watch screen. Similarly, large corporations are hurrying to promote their products. Thus Phillips has revealed its optical sensor embedded into consumer’s hand band to accurately track blood volume variations recalculated into the heart rate.
Sensors can capture not only your physical, but also emotional parameters. Zensorium watch-like device claims to predict, for $129, if the wearer is distressed, excited or calm by measuring the change in intervals between heartbeats. The technology can step further to manipulate your moods. Thync, a company founded by Harvard neuroscientists, developed a sensor that is instructing nerves on the head and neck to act on the brain adrenaline system. Attached to the temple, it changes the wearer’s mental state able to energize or to calm a user down.
Even the gaming industry is hopping on the health trend. Microsoft Kinect2.0 is measuring heart rate remotely by assessing the amount of color intensity radiated by the face during heart contractions. You can peacefully exercise at home while watching the workload’s effects on your heart conditions.
More and more companies are realizing that health of their human resources is an asset and the expensive one. Thus according to Mercer L.L.C. the group health care costs rose to an average of $11,635 per employee in 2015.
It would be natural to assume that healthy, sporty, stress tolerant employees can work harder for the company generating more revenue, while significantly savings on healthcare costs. The assumption forcing corporations to continuously invest in employees’ Health and Wellness programs. And so they do. Tamarac, Florida-based City Furniture Inc., which saw a 3.5% increase in group health costs per year, has produced a health reimbursement arrangement plan. Now 80% of its 1,300 employees are enrolled in the program.
British Petroleum (BP) provides its employees with 16,000 FitBit devices adjusting its employees’ health care premiums depending on how much physical activity their wearables monitor. This allowed the company to drop healthcare costs below the national growth level.
The Return on Investments (ROI) is of course expected. The exchange could be your health data consequently calculated into revenue. CVS Pharmacy, e.g., demands that every one of the 200,000 employees who use its health plan provides certain information about weight, glucose levels, and body fat. Although CVS calls its plan “voluntary,” covered workers who refuse to provide this information must pay a fine of $50 per month.
Soon the devices will be able to “quantify” you from top to bottom. Internet of Health is offering an Employer an unprecedented chance to collect enormous amount of data about employees to assess their staff within a short period of time.
Just imagine your friendly HR is presenting you with an attractive fitness device as a Christmas present. You may think it is a nice gift, but there could be a pragmatic plan beneath the corporate Health and Wellness benefits.
What if your HR suddenly learns that despite all the programs you have been so generously offered your blood pressure is still high and the sugar level is not decreasing? Is it really hard to imagine that upon learning that the efficiency of your sleep is below 50% after attending the company meeting or 1:1 discussion with your boss, a long awaited promotion will suddenly be granted to your more “stress tolerant” colleague?
Of course generating data from employee’s devices and using them for discrimination due to disability, illness or ages is illegal. On top of that the Employer should be getting non-identified group data. But is it so difficult to identify a person among the group of, e.g., 5 people? After all let us not forget that all wearable gadgets and devices are normally provided by the company and thus are still part of its own property. So why not the data collected from those devices? Are the security rules strict enough in regard to Wellness programs?
Last year a City of Houston has introduced a wellness program to all government employees. To their regret, the participants found later that the security and privacy were absolutely not taken for granted and “review of privacy policies shows that many wellness vendors adopt policies allowing them to share identifiable data with unidentified “third parties” and “agents” working to improve employee health.”
Of course no Human Resource (HR) in his right mind will venture to get rid of an employee on the ground of poor health. Much more elegant and efficient pretexts such as “lack of leadership skills”, “poor communication” and ultimately “insufficient performance” are elaborated to disguise the intention.
Many companies are trying to get rid of their senior employees under such impartial umbrellas. It is a company “best kept secret” that people above 50 should be on the “to go list” in search of “new opportunities”. It should not come as a surprise that people who are laid off by the company due to “restructuring”, “transformation” or “job elimination” are predominantly over 50. This is exactly the group that is approaching the brim where health may start giving up and health premiums should be increased. Is it perhaps the reason why those people are trying to avoid the enrollment on the fitness programs? According to the studies only 7% seniors are owning a fitness device.
Why not to take two healthy youngsters aged about 25 vs. a single one over 50 who is with extensive experience, but also potential health issues? As one of my colleagues once savagely said: “We need fresh blood!.” I almost heard her phosphorescent white teeth clutching.
Until the complete privacy and voluntariness of the health data collected by wearables under Health and Wellness programs are not guaranteed there is a risk that these data can be misused by employers to discriminate seniors, less healthy, and more vulnerable.
Meanwhile, I have learned that a large company nearby is offering its employees a free medical screening covering multiple areas: blood pressure, liver, heart and kidney functionalities. Are you fit enough to work? Watch out.