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Employers must invest in protecting workers' health data: IBI panel


SAN FRANCISCO — As employee health information becomes more integral to workplace health and productivity management programs, employers should expand the range of internal resources they commit to protecting that data, experts say.

Aside from ensuring compliance with federal and state laws regarding data security requirements, panelists at the 2014 Integrated Benefits Institute Annual Forum in San Francisco said how much employers invest in protecting information collected from employee medical and workers compensation records, health risk assessments, biometric screenings and other sources likely will be a key factor in the overall success of their workplace health management strategy.

“We need our team members to feel open with us and to feel that they're able to share their health information with us through a health risk assessment or simply in the way that they use their health benefit plans, and it's something that we take very seriously,” said April Seifert, business intelligence and analytics leader at Target Corp.

Especially in light of the massive November cyber attack against the Minneapolis-based retailer, Ms. Seifert said the company has made a concerted effort to emphasize to employees the steps it has taken to protect their health-related information, including the formation of an internal data-sharing committee consisting of in-house counsel and the analytics team that supports the company's employee benefits department.


“We work alongside our compliance attorneys to make sure that the way we're using our employees' protected health information is within scope of all applicable laws and regulations,” Ms. Seifert said. “That's one solution that we've put in place in recent years that's really helped us move our research forward.”

Benefit managers planning to use worker data to inform the scope of a workplace wellness, health management or productivity management program also should include their company's internal information technology department in the design and implementation of the program's analytics component, both to ensure regulatory compliance and to reduce logistical complexity.

“It takes a lot of resources to make this happen,” said Chris McSwain, vice president of U.S. benefits at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Bentonville, Ark. “As much as the members of my team are trying to be innovative in the work that they're doing, our (IT) people are doing the same thing.”