Tag Archives: Human capital

Does Your Employer Have The Right To Select Your Physician And Review The Results Of Your Annual Checkup?

Have you been following the recent debate over President Donald Trump’s health? His personal physician recently summarized his annual checkup by declaring that the President is in “excellent health,” and is “absolutely … fit for duty.”

But others who reviewed the President’s lab results assert that he must “ … increase the dose of his cholesterol-lowering medication and make necessary lifestyle changes … (to reduce his) moderate risk of having a heart attack in the next three to five years …”

Embedded in this debate is the natural awkwardness of revealing any individual’s private health information to others. After all, wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable if the results of your annual checkup were revealed to others and then openly debated by them?

Even federal Senators, state Governors, and other high-ranking elected officials are not subjected to such personal scrutiny. Only the President has been required to submit to it.

In the private sector, though, similar debates have simmered for years about whether publicly traded companies should monitor and disclose the health risks that are faced by their Chief Executive Officers. Apple, for instance, was sharply criticized for keeping many of the details regarding Steve Jobs’ mortal illness confidential. And its Board never insisted on selecting Jobs’ primary care physician.

In contrast, the railroad transportation firm CSX is now opting for a policy of full transparency. Its Board of Directors, responding to the sudden death of its recently deceased CEO, recently decided to “ … require the railroad’s chief executive to submit to an annual physical exam that will be reviewed by the board … (to be performed by) a medical provider chosen by the board …”

This policy inevitably raises an important governance concern. Namely, are companies entitled to select their CEOs’ physicians, and then to review their private health information? The need for such transparency may be understandable, but is the policy itself appropriate?

After all, CEOs are not the only key employees within firms. There are undoubtedly dozens, or even hundreds, of workers within each company who may be deemed key members of the work force.

Should companies have the right to monitor all of their private health information? Where does an employee’s right to privacy outweigh a company’s need for information? And which employees, if any, should be subjected to such scrutiny?

Today, this question may only affect the President of the United States, the incoming Chief Executive Officer of CSX, and a few other key employees of various firms. In the near future, though, it may affect all of us.

Your Employer And Your Health

Have you seen SPECTRE, the latest James Bond film? It includes a scene in which South Africa decides to oppose the other nations in the world’s G-9 (i.e. group of nine largest countries) by refusing to share private data about their citizens in an initiative to fight terrorism. But then the evil organization SPECTRE attacks Cape Town, and the South Africans drop their opposition to data sharing.

As if to emphasize this inclination towards sharing private personal data, last week, the Vitality Group of the South African firm Discovery Limited released Reporting on Health: A Roadmap for Investors, Companies, and Reporting Platforms. More than a dozen global organizations, including IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, PepsiCo, Unilever and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation voiced their support of this report’s recommendations at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

And what did the Vitality report say? It recommended that corporations publicly report on the workforce health metrics of their human capital. In other words, in addition to issuing financial statements and (in certain industries) environmental impact statistics, the Vitality Group and its supporting organizations called for companies to tell the world about the health of their employees.

For instance, according to the Comprehensive Health Metrics Scorecard in Appendix C of the Vitality report, companies should perform health risk assessments and biometric screenings of their employees. To facilitate such activities, companies should incentivize employees to disclose their physical activities, eating habits, alcohol consumption habits, mental health status, sleep patterns, and other wellness information.

Then, according to Vitality, these companies should summarize this information and share it with the general public. The report doesn’t appear to address privacy regulations like the HIPAA federal legislation in the United States, although it does briefly acknowledge privacy concerns by noting that:

For companies that are collecting and analyzing health data, we encourage the highest respect of privacy by using aggregate-level data and by reporting changes over time to ensure that the reporting itself does not unintentionally translate into an incentive for companies to hire healthier employees.

Are you satisfied with this acknowledgment, or does it leave you feeling a bit queasy? Indeed, some of us might squirm at the prospect of our employers collecting such detailed personal information, even if they only publicly disclose the data on an aggregate basis over time.

In the United States, of course, this data can be found in the clinical records of medical providers. Health insurers and managed care organizations also collect such information through the HEDIS metrics of the NCQA.

But it may be difficult to find American employees who are willing to share such information with their employers. Although data privacy doesn’t appear to be a major priority in James Bond’s fantasy world, it is indeed a significant consideration in our own real world.

Can The NFL Learn?

We’ve now reached the second month of the National Football League’s 2015-16 season in the United States. Are you curious about how Commissioner Roger Goodell’s embarrassingly flawed (and eventually overturned) suspension of superstar quarterback Tom Brady is affecting the popularity of the sport?

Surprisingly, not at all. The NFL’s television ratings remain at an all-time peak, and three different teams are clamoring for the opportunity to enter Los Angeles, the second largest city and business market in the United States.

But it would be a mistake to simply conclude that Goodell’s botched investigation and disciplinary action left no scars. The Commissioner continues to be excoriated for his mismanaged investigation of an on-field controversy that affected the outcome of a playoff game.

Interestingly, although all professional leagues face similar challenges, other sports have adopted far different operational strategies to address them. Last week, for instance, Major League Baseball investigated a controversially violent slide by a Los Angeles Dodger that badly injured an infielder of the New York Mets and led to a victory by the aggressor’s team.

MLB investigated the slide after the conclusion of the game and suspended the Dodger player. The Mets went on to win the series, and the brief controversy ended with no lingering criticism of the review process.

This outcome is particularly striking because, during the game, the baseball umpires initially determined that the Dodger had done nothing wrong. Thus, the MLB felt compelled to overturn the determination of its own on-field umpires. The NFL, in comparison, simply upheld the initial ruling of its on-field referees during the Brady investigation.

So how did MLB resolve its on-field controversy so quickly and so effectively? In comparison to the NFL, which permitted its own Brady investigation to linger for months and then to be overturned on an appeal in federal court?

The answers to these questions may reside in the individual who led the baseball investigation and announced its findings. Joe Torre, the Hall of Famer whose on-field career included eighteen years as an all-star player and an astounding thirty years as a championship manager, serves as MLB’s full time Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations.

In other words, MLB utilizes one of its most respected and experienced on-field veterans to handle investigations of player controversies. It relies on that veteran to function as the public face of the sport when it determines and then announces the punishments of active players.

The NFL, on the other hand, asks its Commissioner to perform those tasks. Its Commissioner, Roger Goodell, is a life-long businessman who has never worn a sports uniform as a player, as a manager, or as a coach at the professional or college level.

To be fair, a dearth of on-field experience certainly doesn’t disqualify one from exercising sound judgment during punitive deliberations. But it does tend to embolden and enable critics who will inevitably leap to excoriate one’s punitive decisions.

So can the NFL learn to operate more effectively by adopting the organizational structure of MLB? If the employment of an experienced sportsman can help preserve MLB’s credibility when it overturns the decisions of its own on-field umpires, it might likewise enhance the trust that the public places in the NFL when it undertakes similar deliberations.