An Irving Company Shows Why Employee Health Surveillance Is Catching on

On his 21st day back at work after a heart attack and triple bypass surgery, Chris Zubko received a call from the main office. Through an app on his phone, his boss was literally monitoring every step of Zubko's recovery."Man! I noticed your steps have picked up,'' gushed Wayne Gono, 65, whose family operates Regal Plastics, a small fabrication business based in Irving and with satellite shops around Texas. "You used to be under 2,000, now you're over 6,000. Two times you worked out this week. Good!''Welcome to a rapidly growing phenomenon in the workplace: constant health surveillance.A digital fitness tracker strapped to Zubko's wrist sends a tally of his daily movements, via the company's UnitedHealth Group insurance account, to an app on his boss's phone. While some employees might find this real-time feedback intrusive, Zubko, 51, said he is unfazed."He's a real motivator,'' Zubko said after getting off the phone with Gono.Devices worn on employees' bodies are an increasingly valuable source of workforce health intelligence for employers and insurance companies. It is fueling a boom in the use of wrist-borne health and fitness monitors, such as those made by Fitbit, Garmin and Apple.But the volume of highly sensitive health data scooped up from individual employees is exploding, too, raising privacy concerns and adding a new dimension to the relationship between workers and their employers. Often the information is not covered by federal rules that protect health records from disclosure. When it's combined with data such as credit scores, employees are giving up more insights about themselves than they realize.The ever-more-sophisticated devices are measuring not just steps and distance walked but also the hours a worker spends in a sedentary state, 24/7 heart rate, and sleep duration and quality.The goal is to help people get fit and save on health-care costs, although evidence is mixed at best about whether the approach works. An employee who barely budges from their desk could be next in line for a medical intervention. That could come from a call center run by Fitbit or a notification from Aetna, which recently announced a new health-monitoring program using Apple watches.Or, at a small employer such as Regal Plastics, it could come straight from the boss you have known for almost 25 years.Gono said he had been using Zubko's steps data to push the employee,who handles accounting and purchasingat the Austin office, even before his health crisis in December."He just wasn't doing anything'' when it came to exercise, Gono said. "You could tell because he would get less than 2,000 steps every day. He was one of the ones that I personally always challenged.''  Continue reading...

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