Your Boss Wants You to Think Twice About That Back Surgery

Corporations typically use data mining of personal information in order to sell more stuff to their customers. However, corporate wellness programs are mostly used in an effort to sell less stuff to their employees. For example:

Based on data such as an individual’s history, the firms can identify a person who might be considering costly procedures like spinal surgery, and can send that person recommendations for a second opinion or physical therapy.

Spinal surgery, which can cost $20,000 or more, is another area where data experts are digging in. After finding that 30% of employees who got second opinions from top-rated medical centers ended up forgoing spinal surgery, Wal-Mart tapped Castlight to identify and communicate with workers suffering from back pain.

To find them, Castlight scans insurance claims related to back pain, back imaging or physical therapy, plus pharmaceutical claims for pain medications or spinal injections. Once identified, the workers get information about measures that could delay or head off surgery, such as physical therapy or second-opinion providers.

So what do you think? Programs designed to lower health care costs are a good idea. Providing useful health information to employees is a good idea. But how about providing information specifically designed to influence a course of treatment? Is this an attempt to steer employees away from fly-by-night doctors who recommend back surgery for everyone? Or just another green-eyeshade attempt to persuade employees to forego expensive procedures?

Hey, those are good questions! Answers will be forthcoming some day.