IS YOUR COMPANY USING BIG DATA TO TRACK PREGNANCIES
OR YOUR POTENTIAL TO BECOME PREGNANT?!
How would you feel if you found out that your company had hired a third party company to mine data about your prescriptions, shopping habits, voting records and search queries to predict which medical conditions you might develop? I know how I would feel – pissed right off. According to an article published by the Wall Street Journal on February 17, 2016, some companies are doing exactly that. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) requires the confidential handling of protected health information, but it doesn’t apply to search queries and insurance claims. What the what? Yeah.
The main example that the WSJ gives is the insurance company Castlight Healthcare, Inc. One of Castlight’s largest customers is Wal-Mart. Castlight crunches all of the available data about a company’s employees to determine how many are likely to develop diabetes, or need dangerous (expensive, is the real issue here) back surgery. Castlight even uses this information to direct weight-loss messages or contact information for specialists towards an at-risk user through their app. The WSJ also writes about another company, Welltok Inc., whose clients include Colorado’s state employees. “[Welltok] found that people who vote in midterm elections tend to be healthier than those who skip them, says Chris Coloian, the firm’s chief solutions officer. In general, midterm voters are more mobile and more active in the community, strong indicators of overall health, he says.”
Now, you might be wondering why I’m writing about this at all – it doesn’t really involve my one true love – babies. This is why – Castlight is also applying these methods to determining which women might soon become pregnant. Yeah, this is some pretty creepy Minority Report crap right here.
From the WSJ article, “To determine which employees might soon get pregnant, Castlight recently launched a new product that scans insurance claims to find women who have stopped filling birth-control prescriptions, as well as women who have made fertility-related searches on Castlight’s health app. That data is matched with the woman’s age, and if applicable, the ages of her children to compute the likelihood of an impending pregnancy, says Jonathan Rende, Castlight’s chief research and development officer. She would then start receiving emails or in-app messages with tips for choosing an obstetrician or other prenatal care.”
On the surface, employees knowing how many women might be trying to conceive, or even how many are already pregnant, doesn’t sound suuuper bad. I mean, it DOES NOT sound good, but it sounds like it’s being used to help women, right? ‘Oh, we’ve decided you’re probably pregnant! Here are some doctors you might want to check out.’ Sounds innocent enough. But what if an employer thinks that maybe…20% of it’s female employees might get pregnant in the next year. Then, they find out from Castlight that the real number is closer to 35%. This new “information” (it’s really more of a disturbing educated guess) might lead Wal-Mart to hire fewer women for the next year, because they “can’t afford” to have so many women out on maternity leave.
There is also a lot of room for accidents with this set-up. Let’s say that your company, or your boss, accidentally, DOES see a list of specific names. Women in the workplace already have a ton to worry about, from sexual harassment to making less money than their male counterparts. Once we start thinking about starting a family, a whole new slew of worries move in. “What if I get fired? What if they replace me while I’m out on maternity leave? What if I get moved down? What if I don’t get that promotion I applied for…simply because I am capable of growing a human?” The LAST thing we need is our bosses or employers having one-up on us. They should find out that we are pregnant when we chose to tell them, and not one second before.
There is some good news. According to Fortune, “Castlight only collects data on individuals who explicitly opt in to its services, which include a search function for in-network doctors and the ability to track health care spending (the fine print: opting into the service also gives Castlight permission to share data with the individual’s employer).” Fortune also writes that, “[Castlight] caps the size of any group it will single out at 40 people, since it believes that any smaller group could allow the client to identify the individual employees.” So at least there is that.
The bottom line is that I don’t think it is anyone’s business but our own whether or not we are pregnant or trying to conceive, and I doubt that I am the only one who feels that way. That’s not to say that we are actively keeping it a secret. I write about it on my blog, and I talk about it with my mom. But those are my decisions to make. If I found out my mom was trolling through my bank statement to see if I was still filling my birth control prescription we would have a little bit of a problem! But, if I can’t trust my healthcare provider, then I’ll go back to living in the 1990s. I’ll stop searching for answers to my questions on my healthcare provider’s app/website, and go check out some library books! If you don’t like the idea of your company using big data to track your pregnancy, or potential pregnancy, then I would recommend that if you have insurance provided for you through your employer, that you go back over any user agreements, re-read the fine print and opt-the-hell-out. ‘Cause fudge that noise.