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September 06, 2016

What to Expect When [Your Employer Suspects] You’re Expecting

Author Affiliations
  • 1Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
  • 2Health Law and Policy Institute, University of Houston, Houston, Texas

Copyright 2016 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA Intern Med. Published online September 6, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5268

Employers are increasingly contracting with firms that use big data to predict and promote employee health. By aggregating claims data, browser searches, and demographic information, these firms can foresee whether employees are at risk for health issues—and their associated costs—and target preventive resources accordingly. However, a recent report1 indicates that this analytic capability is being extended to predict not only diabetes or the need for back surgery but also whether an employee is or is considering becoming pregnant. This trend raises troubling questions about the appropriate limits of wellness program analytics. When is an employer’s use of big data a legitimate prevention strategy, and when is it an impermissible intrusion into employee privacy?

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