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Internet of Things may bring more monitoring of health workers

Gundars Kaupins: Human Resources
Gundars Kaupins: Human Resources

Certified nursing assistants are professionals working 12-hour shifts. They might feel they are running a marathon each day to keep up with the patients, nurses and doctors.

Those compressed work weeks with three to four days of 12-hour shifts take their toll on the human body. Body clocks are messed up. Backaches abound. Does anybody know about hospital-employee stress? Managers tend to decay the most, especially toward the end of a long shift.

Some classic training tips to reduce health problems related to the 12-hour day include getting plenty of sleep, lifting patients and equipment the right way, and getting help when stressful situations occur.

A newfangled but controversial way to help with the 12-hour madness is to monitor CNAs, nurses and doctors with the "Internet of Things."

Almost every part of the body can be monitored through sensors connected to the Internet or an intranet. Any health-related data about an employee that shows something extremely wrong can alert a manager, who can respond appropriately. Heart rates, body temperatures and numbers of steps taken each day are among the data sets than can be measured and analyzed.

Potential long-term advantages of such monitoring can include improved awareness of medical conditions, early treatment, lower turnover because of better health and improved performance.

However, employee privacy can be compromised. Employees might object to the monitoring. The job-relatedness of health problems might be difficult to prove. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and a host of other privacy-related laws enter the discussion. Voluntary rather than mandatory monitoring is legally safer.

Data can be abused. In counting the steps that an employee takes, his or her location can potentially be determined. A manager might be able to detect how long an employee has been in the bathroom. The manager might incorrectly think that a CNA has been loafing because he or she took relatively few steps on a particular day.

Stay tuned for the greater use of employee-monitoring technology in the medical profession.

Gundars Kaupins is a professor of management in the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University. gkaupins@boisestate.edu

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