Federal Agency Researches Tracking Employees Health with Watches

According to reporting from CBC, a federal agency is doing exploratory research into tracking public employees with smartwatches in order to lower healthcare costs.

The Impact and Innovation Unit is doing the research, and it is part of Prime Minister Trudeau’s Privy Council Office.

In West Virginia, a teachers’ strike was in part mobilized by the state’s plan to track teacher’s health with smartwatches and adjust health care costs levied against their employers accordingly.  The plan caused a fervor, and the state was forced to scrap the plan along with offering the teachers’ union more concessions on pay and healthcare.

Fortunately for Canadian, the standard and cost of healthcare is much better than their American counterparts.

Fitbits, Apple watches, and other smartwatches are able to collect health data ranging from heartbeat, steps and general exercise down by the user.  Several American insurance companies are offering incentives for customers to share their healthcare data with them.

In the case of Canada, researchers are looking if implementing a smartwatch policy for public employees would reduce healthcare premiums for active and healthy employees.  The Impact and Innovation Unit lists several drawbacks to having smartwatches on public employees, including pushback from employees about their privacy being breached.

The research unit is also looking at other incentive programs to make employees eat and live healthier.  This could take the form of a mobile app or website that offers discounts on products and other bonuses for making health-conscious choices.

This incentive-based system contrasts with other policy solutions such as making it more affordable to eat healthily or providing more health education.  Nudging is another somewhat controversial policy solution where policymakers design laws based on creating psychological nudges that increase outcomes without offering any incentive.

Many Canadians are likely to be wary about any sort of program that tracks health data through smartwatches, and if the policy was implemented it might face harsh pushback.  And in terms of improving health and fitness, there are likely better options.

Alexander Eser of FITBOOK remarked that increasing fitness is often personal, “someone has to have the desire to improve their health in order to see real results.  No one will make massive life changes and buy into a healthier lifestyle if they receive small or negative incentive to do so.”

Policymakers are often attempting to change bad habits of citizens either through increasing taxes on unhealthy products or subsidizing public transport.  While the smartwatch policy is still in the exploratory phase, and it may never see the light of day, Canadian politicians will continue to look at how they can improve their citizens’ health.  So far, the committee has only done initial research on the fitness tracking policy, but they will continue to look for solutions.

Eser added, “I would advise more of a focus on education if people know more about the health impacts of different products and foods that are available to them, then they can make more informed decisions.”

Canadian employees are unlikely to be forced to wear a smartwatch to work any time soon, but the public will have to hold their policymakers accountable for providing better alternatives than tracking their every move.


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