September 11, 2020 | Mark Lewis
Health Monitoring - A New Normal
As we strategize how to reopen the economy safely in the midst of a global pandemic, we’ll need to rethink our ideas about the tradeoffs between health safety and personal privacy. For a relevant comparison, you need only think back to air travel pre 9/11 and what it looks like today.
After 9/11, airport security changed dramatically. Today, we take our shoes off, go through a body scanner, and submit to a pat down — sometimes more than one. Our bags are thoroughly checked. Anything suspicious brings on even greater scrutiny. Some seemingly harmless items (like water bottles) are not allowed past the security checkpoint. While not ideal, I would gladly give up a few “personal rights” for the peace of mind that my flight will not have a bomb on board.
Health monitoring in the workplace — during COVID and beyond — will have a similar feel as we figure out the protocols required to keep workers safe on the job, which also protects their families and the community at large. This will require some recalibration of our expectations for data privacy and individual rights — as well as a much clearer regulatory framework.
Workplace (and Play Place) Safety
First, answer these questions. If you go to work, a sporting event, a cruise or an amusement park, are you okay with coworkers, or others around you, knowingly having symptoms of a deadly contagious virus but deciding not to tell anyone of the risk? Which is MORE important? An individual’s right to privacy — specifically, to not share specific health information regarding an infectious disease — or your right to be able to avoid settings where your life may be at risk?
In America, and most places in the world, people place a high value on personal freedoms and personal privacy. That said, most would also agree that an individual’s personal freedoms should not extend to areas where that freedom puts others at significant risk. We enjoy the freedom to drink alcohol but not the freedom to drive while intoxicated because the latter puts others at significant risk.
As employers turn to new technologies to help manage the COVID risk and keep their essential employees (and their customers) as safe as possible, these technologies also raise questions regarding data privacy and individual rights. What data is being collected? Who can see it? How long is it kept? What else might it be used for other than preventing the spread of COVID?
The key is being able to provide the safest “community” environment for all of us while minimizing the restrictions on individual freedoms or compromising privacy.
The FeverGuard Difference
FeverGuard has been designed to provide a huge health safety benefit while minimizing the impact on personal privacy. First, FeverGuard’s data handling schema is HIPAA compliant. Next, we offer an option where all employees can monitor themselves for the first sign of a fever and take steps to isolate and get further testing. In this case, the employer/provider would not receive any information.
This approach, however, may not be viewed by many employers as sufficient to ensure compliance. It’s kind of like asking people who drink too much not to drive. It works for most, but we still need the police to check for violators and enforce the law. This is why we offer FeverGuard users an opt-in option to join “groups” where trusted parties can be notified when potential fevers are detected. This notification DOES NOT include any specific data, just notification that the user has an unusually high temperature.
Some employee unions have raised the privacy concern, and it’s a legitimate consideration. The problem is you really can’t have it both ways. If employees and unions don’t agree to some form of monitoring, then it’s basically impossible for a business to offer much in terms of ensuring health safety to those same employees. It’s like expecting the airline to ensure safety on a flight but not agreeing to security screenings. It literally makes the objective impossible.
FeverGuard continuously monitors your body temperature and learns your unique temperature pattern, so it can alert you at the first sign of a potential fever, which is an early indicator of infection. This is not only important on an individual level, but an organizational level as well. Workers interact with their families, friends, and the community at large.
With COVID, the most prominent risk is people who unknowingly come to work infected and spread the virus to others. FeverGuard could be a huge factor in stopping this in two scenarios.
One, individuals are wearing FeverGuard around the clock and get an alert at home that they may be developing a fever. They could stay home from work, self-isolate, seek medical attention, and come back to work once recovered — exposing no one in the workplace. Two, an employee wears FeverGuard during work hours, gets a real-time alert at the first sign of a fever, self-isolates, and alerts anyone they were in contact with that day.
If the organization uses FeverGuard’s dashboard to monitor employees, the company admin would get an alert that an employee has a potential fever. But no personal health information is disclosed to anyone but the wearer, not even their body temperature. Only a name and email are disclosed, so the organization can assure appropriate steps are taken to isolate the individual and complete further evaluation.
Asking the Right Questions
It would be Polly Anna to suggest there’s no dark side to health monitoring. To protect themselves, workers need to ask the right questions about the data gathered by apps that claim to support a healthier, safer workplace. As we outlined above the questions include:
- What data is being collected?
- What’s the purpose?
- Where will it be stored and for how long?
- Will data be shared and with whom?
- Is the data managed in accordance HIPAA health information privacy provisions?
FeverGuard can answer those questions confidently and transparently, so you can embrace a technology designed to protect your wellbeing and deliver peace of mind while protecting your privacy.