• International Workplace
  • 22 July 2020

Employees welcome digital health support but worry about personal health data use

The majority of employees think businesses should provide more physical and mental health support through technology, with apps, wearables and online services high on the list of demands, according to new research published by Aetna International. However, there is also clear concern around the use of personal health data by employers on an individual basis, according to the global survey involving over 4,000 employees in the US, UK and Singapore.

The study, designed to assess the impact of technology on health at work, found that 71% believe their employer can help them manage physical health better through technology, while 61% say the same of their mental health.

Over two-thirds support the provision of a smart watch or fitness tracker to benefit mental and physical health and three-quarters use or would use an app to help manage mental health. Additionally, 69% believe access to physical health services (provided by their employer) through their phone would help them manage their physical health better, with that figure rising to 75% for mental health services.

However, the findings also highlight employee concerns around personal health data being used by employers or shared with third parties. Over six in ten worry it would one day be used as a criteria for promotion and a similar number that it might be a means of establishing salary grade (64%).

Most employees surveyed had concerns about their employer sharing their personal health data with third parties (67%) or government agencies or institutions (57%).

Richard di Benedetto, President at Aetna International said:

“Technology has not only revolutionised how we collaborate, communicate and work, but also how organisations help support and improve employee health and wellbeing. In the current climate, high-tech, high-touch corporate wellbeing strategies that include apps, devices and virtual access-to-care services are high on the list of employee demands. Businesses have a significant opportunity to embrace technology and innovation and fundamentally change their values, culture and approach to employee health.

“Of course, with more digital innovation comes more data, and a greater need to alleviate employees’ concerns about the use of their health data. All employers are responsible for the privacy and protection of their employees’ health data, ensuring that individuals retain ownership and control.

“Interestingly, our research shows that when data is used responsibly, many people are open to sharing anonymised health data. This suggests employees understand the powerful role technology can play in enabling and informing a business’ strategies. If handled correctly, it presents an incredible opportunity for employers to foster trust, and for all parties to help shape the corporate culture and approach to workforce health and wellbeing.”

Circumstances where employees indicated they would willingly share their health data include helping to improve health and wellness benefits offered across the business (80%) and helping their business to offer more personalised health benefits (74%).

Over two-thirds also said they would share personal health data if it helped to improve company culture (69%), while 75% would do so to help improve workplace policies.