Fitbit has now announced a new service called Ready for Work that helps employees self-track COVID-19 symptoms and allows employers to log the results, reports indicate. The end-goal, of course, is to allow employers to keep the workplace and all employees safer, amid the ongoing pandemic.
The Google-owned wearable company says that its service is tied in with wearables and a self-reporting system. That allows employers to see what their symptoms are. But it also enables users to ensure they aren’t headed into work when they really shouldn’t be.
Ready to Work enables employees to perform a daily check-in. In short, the service logs temperature, self-reported symptoms, heart rate, heart rate variability, and breathing. It also allows self-reporting of any exposure that may have occurred. And all of that information is used to provide a worker with a recommendation as to whether or not they should stay home.
Why is in-depth symptom tracking such as with Ready for Work important?
Employers can also keep tabs on the results of the monitoring, allowing a more precise response to any potential threats. That’s because the system essentially gives employers a heads-up about whether or not it’s likely that a worker is sick — coronavirus or not.
The in-depth measurements that are taken, meanwhile, help to inform employers for more precise responses.
For instance, Dr. Michael Snyder, director of Stanford’s Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine, indicates that it isn’t just temperature changes and noteworthy symptoms that give away whether a person is sick. The “nuances in biometrics” measured by Ready for Work can provide more insight, even in pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic cases.
Symptoms such as a heart rate “increase of two heartbeats per minute” can show a “significant immune system response,” the doctor indicates. Those types of symptoms are easy to miss because they can’t be detected during an “office visit.”
So, by tracking every symptom the service should be able to offer up more accurate recommendations. At the very least, it could save lives and prevent major disruptions to a workforce and productivity.
Could this potentially pose a serious data privacy problem?
Keeping tabs on employee health amid an ongoing global pandemic such as COVID-19 is arguably a good thing for everybody involved. Many companies, particularly for essential workers, have already actively monitored employees for symptoms. Typically, that’s taken the form of on-site temperature checks and other screening measures.
Fitbit indicates that the biometric data collected via its Ready to Work service will serve companies better. But that doesn’t mean this offering isn’t going to cause any problems on the privacy front. The company indicates that Ready to Work gives employers a dashboard to monitor employees’ “workplace readiness.”
Now, it does appear to be the case that employees would need to explicitly pass on the information. So users would effectively be able to opt-in. But that would still give all reported symptoms over to the employer. That could, potentially, result in HIPAA violations, should any of that wearable health data leak out or be stolen by bad actors.