Pregnancy tracking app raises privacy concerns over data shared with employers

Ovia Health, a developer of fertility, pregnancy and parenting-tracking apps, shares user data with employers and insurers as a way to monitor employees' health, The Washington Post reports.

Employers who pay for Ovia Health's special version of health tracking apps can access de-identified, aggregated data from their employees who use the apps, according to the report. Employers offer access to the apps along with other health benefits to help decrease company healthcare spending and help identify medical problems.

However, experts have raised concerns that health-tracking apps could give companies incentive to use the data to increase benefits' costs or decrease coverage. Despite the de-identification of user data, companies may still be able to determine which data pertains to which employee, based off information shared in confidence in workplaces where there are not as many women who are pregnant at the same time, The Washington Post reports.

Pregnant employees who use Ovia's app can log information regarding their sleep, diet, mood and weight, and women who are trying to conceive can track details such as when they had sex or if they experience a miscarriage or pregnancy loss.

Much of the information logged in Ovia's apps is viewable only to the employee, but, according to the report, employers can view a wide-range of employees' aggregated data, including "their average age, number of children and current trimester; the average time it took them to get pregnant; the percentage who had high-risk pregnancies, conceived after a stretch of infertility, had C-sections or gave birth prematurely; and the new moms’ return-to-work timing."

While the health information gathered is "sensitive," it can help "play a critical role in boosting women's well-being and companies' bottom lines," Ovia Health CEO Paris Wallace told The Washington Post. He said the company follows HIPAA privacy laws and provides the data to employers so they can analyze their workforces' health outcomes and how they have changed over time.

Ovia Health did not confirm to The Washington Post how many companies it works with, but it said the total number of employees at its clients' companies is estimated at 10 million. Ovia refers to this statistic as "covered lives," according to the report.

To access the full report, click here.

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