Address Wellness Program Privacy Concerns Proactively

Employee Benefits

Is Your Workplace Wellness Program Putting Employees’ Personal Health Information at Risk?

There is expressed concern in the industry that certain workplace wellness programs could inadvertently be putting employees’ personal and confidential medical information at a high risk of exposure.  The suggestion is that outside organizations brought into some aspect of a program  –  a wellness vendor, rewards company, smart phone apps, programs, wearable wellness tracking devices, etc. – could potentially be passing the employees’ personal information along to other organizations for marketing purposes.

As more wellness programs seek to accommodate the convenience of wearable wellness tracking devices and smart phone apps, it is important for employers to ensure that discretion exists within their wellness programming efforts and confidential information remains secure.

Guidelines to help protect employee privacy:

  • Work with your insurance advisor and wellness vendor to make sure they are using HIPAA qualified resources and meeting required HIPAA privacy protections
  • Ask your wellness vendors if they agree to the standards set by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, (NCQA), and if their wellness group is NCQA accredited. (NCQA requests that all wellness providers it accredits observe HIPAA privacy rules.)
  • Review the medical waivers and data release statements that you ask your wellness program participants to sign off on. Clarify and communicate any vague language that might be misinterpreted by the employee as permission to distribute their personal information.

Once you have taken these basic precautionary steps, be prepared to address privacy concerns with employees.

With some employee populations, it will be important to address the issue proactively. With other populations, it may make sense to wait until there are concerns raised by the employees.  Whatever course of action you take, your ultimate goal is to avoid a situation where rumors about privacy concerns grow to a point where you see an unexpected, rapid decline of employee participation in your wellness screenings and program. A sharp decline can undo years of hard-won successes.

Reaffirm what your employee wellness and health promotion program is trying to accomplish. You are striving to provide cultural support and financial incentives to help increase the health and productivity of your employees and their family members.

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