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Concerns surround wellness programs' rising use of biometric tests

Some worry screening will lead to over-testing, over-treating

More and more workplace wellness programs are asking company employees to undergo so-called biometrics or blood tests that screen for a variety of risk factors from high cholesterol levels to high blood sugars.

But some experts wonder if that practice is leading to over-testing and over-treating of patients, which is actually helping drive up the cost of healthcare, according to a report by Kaiser Health News. The increasing focus on biometrics has some people asking if the screening exams will improve people's health by uncovering health problems or lead to unwelcome results.

The problem is when workplace programs require all employees to undergo the same one-size-fits-all package of tests regardless of their age and risk factors, according to KHN. That kind of screening poses some risks since the tests can result in a false positive--indicating a problem where none exists--or a false negative, which could incorrectly lead a person to believe there is no health risk. It can also result in people taking unneeded medications.

For example, medical groups differ on the best age to start cholesterol screening and the frequency of that testing. Statins, used to lower heart attack risk for people with high cholesterol levels, are not without side effects in some patients. Also, broad-brush testing for blood glucose levels, which could indicate diabetes, is not recommended by medical societies for younger people or those without risk factors.

However, proponents of wellness programs say they provide people with information they can share with their physicians. "The hope is that the program will get people to proactively see their physicians to manage their health risks," Jim Pshock, president and CEO of Bravo Wellness, which runs wellness programs for employers, told KHN. "Yes, this will, hopefully, mean more prescription drug utilization and office visits, but fewer heart attacks and cancers and strokes."

As workplace wellness programs become more common, controversy continues. Some employees are wary of sharing their personal health information, afraid it will be used by their employer. And some experts question the effectiveness of these programs, particularly when it comes to achieving weight loss goals for employees who participate.

To learn more:
- read the report

Related Articles:  
Privacy concerns arise when wellness programs share data with vendors
Doubts surround effectiveness of wellness plans aimed at weight loss
Many employees not aware of workplace wellness programs
Employees still wary to share personal information for wellness programs
Wellness program success: Help consumers, don't penalize them [Special Report]