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Consumers Take Risk Trading Health Data For Health Insurance Discounts

Posted on August 28, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

When Progressive Insurance began giving car owners the option of having their driving tracked in exchange for potential auto insurance discounts, nobody seemed to raise a fuss. After all, the program was voluntary, and nobody wants to pay more than they have to for coverage.

Do the same principles apply to healthcare? We may find out. According to a study by digital health research firm Parks Associates, at least some users are willing to make the same tradeoff. HIT Consultant reports that nearly half (42%) of digital pedometer users would be willing to share their personal data in exchange for a health insurance discount.

Consumer willingness to trade data for discounts varied by device, but didn’t fall to zero. For example, 35% of smart watch owners would trade their health data for health insurance discounts, while 26% of those with sleep-quality monitors would do so.

While the HIT Consultant story doesn’t dig into the profile of users who were prepared to sell their personal health data today — which is how I’d describe a data-for-discount scheme — I’d submit that they are, in short, pretty sharp.

Why do I say this? Because as things stand, at least, health insurers would get less than they were paying for unless the discount was paltry. (As the linked blog item notes, upstart health insurer Oscar Insurance already gives away free Misfit wearables. To date, though, it’s not clear from the write-up whether Oscar can quantify what benefit it gets from the giveaway.)

As wearables and health apps mature, however, consumers may end up compromising themselves if they give up personal health data freely. After all, if health insurance begins to look like car insurance, health plans could push up premiums every time they make a health “mistake” (such as overeating at a birthday dinner or staying up all night watching old movies). Moreoever, as such data gets absorbed into EMRs, then cross-linked with claims, health plans’ ability to punish you with actuarial tables could skyrocket.

In fact, if consumers permit health plans to keep too close a watch on them, it could give the health plans the ability to effectively engage in post-contract medical underwriting. This is an unwelcome prospect which could lead to court battles given the ACA’s ban on such activities.

Also, once health plans have the personal data, it’s not clear what they would do with it. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that health plans would have significant legal latitude in using freely given data, and might even be seen to sell that data in the aggregate to pharmas. Or they might pass it to their parent company’s life or auto divisions, which could potentially use the data to make coverage decisions.

Ultimately, I’d argue that unless the laws are changed to protect consumers who do so, selling personal health data to get lower insurance premiums is a very risky decision. The short-term benefit is unlikely to be enough to offset very real long-term consequences. Once you’ve compromised your privacy, you seldom get it back.

Consumers Are Ready For Wearable Tech

Posted on January 15, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Though they’re pretty, interesting and fun, I’ve never taken wearable devices that seriously as a force that could have impact on healthcare delivery in the here and now.  Well, it seems that I was wrong.  While it’s not certain that the health system can afford these devices — they don’t exactly come in at an easy consumer price point — it seems consumers are ready to use them if given the chance.

According to a new study by Accenture, more than half of consumers “are interested in buying wearable technologies such as fitness monitors for tracking physical activity in managing their personal health,” according to a report in Health IT Outcomes.

According to Accenture, consumers were primarily interested in devices like smart watches and wearable smart glasses such as Google Glass, even though these devices are not yet available commercially.  Consumers were also very interested in phablets, an emerging device category combining smart phone and tablet PC functions.

I can’t help think that this is a very positive trend.  For one thing, consumer wearables can be an important gateway to remote patient monitoring, something that’s less likely with devices that are used and put aside, like wired glucose monitors, pulse oximeters and blood pressure cuffs.

What’s more, wearables can fit into a healthcare ecosystem in which devices talk to one another and other wireless systems (such as their desktop, laptop or smart phone), whereas the other smart devices I’ve mentioned have less flexibility in that arena.

So, who pays for the wearables?  At least at first, it will probably make more sense for providers to invest in these devices and use them to conduct tests of remote patient monitoring and its impact on care.

But as consumers pick up the wearables themselves, providers might want to focus on building a network which seamlessly integrate these devices, as it seems almost a given that consumers will buy them when they’re available and affordable.  It will take years to get that right, so now it’s probably time to start. Get prepared for the Internet of everything!