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August 15, 2016

A Proposed Code of Conduct on Wellness

Summary:

The C. Everett Koop Award just went to a company that HURT employees' health. It's time for a code of conduct for wellness programs.

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So many wellness industry misdeeds to expose, so little room on the internet.

This posting will start out as one of my typical shock-and-awe postings featuring a wellness vendor raising the bar for dishonesty and employee harms. Uniquely, though, we will close with a surprisingly uplifting slam-bang conclusion that could change the wellness industry forever…but only with your help.

The Bad News

It’s that time of year again, when traditionally the C. Everett Koop Award Committee bestows an award upon a fellow committee member or award sponsor, in recognition of doing the best job of fabricating dramatic savings while making only trivial improvements in employee health. That’s par for the course, and isn’t even news any more.

See also: The Yuuuuge Hidden Costs of Wellness

However, this year, the Koop Award Committee apparently decided that actually improving employee health was too high a bar for a wellness program to clear, so the committee gave the award to a committee colleague, Wellsteps, for a program in which the health status of Boise School District employees deteriorated. We’ve done the arithmetic so you don’t have to. The award application below shows that 5,293 employee biomarkers improved, while 6,397 got worse.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 7.46.59 PM

In addition to the objective failure of the program, consider employee self-reported health. The single most important question to ask to gauge the state of someone’s health is: “How is your health?” Wellsteps buried the answer to that question at the end of a long list, but squint hard enough and you can see that Boise employee self-reported health status declined, by a small but statistically significant (p=0.0007) amount:

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 7.48.39 PM

There are many other problems with this program, too. Wellsteps is shaming even the lightest drinkers, attributing massive savings to improved health despite the deterioration in health, suppressing data showing increased health spending and flouting clinical guidelines. All that is covered in this Linkedin Pulse.

In all fairness, here is the response from Wellsteps’ Troy Adams (best known in the wellness industry for posting that ”It’s fun to get fat, and it’s fun to be lazy”) to my initial observations that Wellsteps is harming employees and fabricating savings. Surprisingly, I agree with both points:

  1. Yes, the Wellsteps data is “rock solid;” and,
  2. Yes, having just walked into from 92-degree heat, I am at least temporarily full of “hot air.”

The Good News

Fabricating savings is part of the Koop Award DNA, but bestowing an award on a vendor that actually harmed employees crosses a bright red line. Rather than complaining about it (or more accurately, in addition to complaining about it), I thought it might be time to take steps to prevent this type of performance from being considered acceptable, let alone prizeworthy.

So I convened a group, including WELCOA‘s respected and forward-thinking new CEO, Ryan Piccarella, and leading wellness gurus Jon Robison and Rosie Ward of Salveo Partners. Together, we crafted a very simple and minimalist Code of Conduct. (I don’t want to take more than my share of the credit. This was a joint effort. I just happened to be the one who initiated the email chain.) In full, it appears below. It is definitely “minimalist,” a Code of the first-do-no-harm variety. And yet, as low a threshold as it is, many vendors – including Wellsteps and many previous Koop Award winners – would not be able to meet it.

What we would ask of ITL’s readership is:

  1. Circulate this posting/the Code widely;
  2. As brokers or customers, insist that your vendor(s) follow the Code of Conduct…and add it as an actual contractual term;
  3. As brokers or vendors, announce that you will be following the Code. (While this blog is my own effort, I am also affiliated with Quizzify. Quizzify will be announcing this week that it intends to make this Code of Conduct a contractual term, meaning that failing to adhere to it would constitute a breach of our obligations under the contract.)

The Employee Health Program Code of Conduct

Our organization resolves that its program should do no harm to employee health, corporate integrity or employee/employer finances. Instead, we will endeavor to support employee well-being for our customers, their employees and all program constituents.

Employee Benefits and Harm Avoidance

Our organization will recommend doing programs with/for employees rather than to them, and will focus on promoting well-being and avoiding bad health outcomes. Our choices and frequencies of screenings are consistent with U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and CDC guidelines and Choosing Wisely.

See also: Wellness Promoters Agree: It Doesn’t Work  

Our relevant staff will understand USPSTF guidelines, employee harm avoidance, wellness-sensitive medical event measurement and outcomes analysis.

Employees will not be singled out, fined or embarrassed for their health status.

Respect for Corporate Integrity and Employee Privacy

We will not share employee-identifiable data with employers and will ensure that all protected health information (PHI) adheres to HIPAA regulations and any other applicable laws.

Commitment to Valid Outcomes Measurement

Our contractual language and outcomes reporting will be transparent and plausible. All research limitations (e.g., “participants vs. non-participants” or the “natural flow of risk” or ignoring dropouts) and methodology will be fully disclosed, sourced and readily available.

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About the Author

Al Lewis, widely credited with having invented disease management, is co-founder and CEO of Quizzify, the leading employee health literacy vendor. He was founding president of the Care Continuum Alliance and is president of the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium.

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