Are company wellness programs putting employees' information at risk?

  • Small
  • Medium
  • Large

Companies' wellness programs continue to succeed as employees across the country strive to reach their New Year's resolutions of becoming healthier.

A 2014 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 99 percent of companies with 200 or more employees offered some kind of wellness program in 2013. But are these programs actually dangerous to employees? In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Ifeoma Ajunwa, PhD, a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center, outlined the potential risks involved in workplace wellness programs.

In a California Law Review paper, Dr. Ajunwa and her colleagues uncovered that the data of employees in wellness programs often isn't protected. For example, wellness program vendors can gain access to patients' information through medical exams and questionnaires.

Throughout her article, Dr. Ajunwa details numerous other means by which employees' information is not adequately kept safe. Many companies utilize standalone vendors to run their wellness programs. Because these vendors aren't healthcare providers, the employee information they gather isn't protected by HIPAA. A 2015 CNN article notes that some of these vendors may be selling employees' health data to third parties.

Another growing threat, data breaches, could also pose a risk to employees' health information. In Dr. Ajunwa's article in the Ohio State Law Journal, she outlines how data breaches and hacking could compromise employees' data.

Despite potential risks, employees can do something to keep their personal health data safe. If you're looking to join your company's wellness program, be sure to "carefully read the consent forms for health data collection and make sure [you] understand what data will be collected and how it will be used — both by the third party vendor and by the employer," Dr. Ajunwa wrote.

As for companies interested in setting up wellness programs, Dr. Ajunwa advises companies to thoroughly evaluate "the potential legal liabilities, particularly those tied to the collection of big data." Once employers know what the dangers are, they can take active steps to mitigate future problems.

Copyright © 2022 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars