Tag Archives: Robert Woods

Healthcare: When a Win-Win Is Lose-Lose

“Workplace Wellness Programs Are a Sham“ is a good article in Slate by L.V. Anderson. This is a must read for people who remain true believers that workplace wellness will improve worker health.

“The idea behind wellness programs sounds like a win-win,” Anderson writes. Alas, history is full of “win-win” ideas that were destructive, costly or ineffective.

She describes the infamous “doublespeak” of Safeway CEO Stephen Burd’s description of success with Safeway’s wellness program. Anderson writes, “As it turns out, almost none of Burd’s story was true.” (Regular readers of my blog will know I’ve written about the Safeway nonsense before.)

For decades, everyone knew that an annual physical was a great way to stay healthy, but various studies, including the famous New England Centenarian Study, have exposed that as a myth, too.

See also: A Proposed Code of Conduct on Wellness  

Antibacterial soap, anyone? Sounded like a great win-win, no? The FDA finally outlawed it. In my book, An Illustrated Guide to Personal Health, written in 2015 with UNLV Professor Robert Woods, Chapter 4 was titled, “Avoid Antibacterial Soaps and Gels.” Why? “Overuse of antibacterial soaps and gels can reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics you may need someday…. They are helping create antibiotic-resistant germs.”

Back to wellness failures. Companies in the U.S. have spent huge dollars trying to keep employees healthy through methods that are shams. It’s time to move on.

I immodestly include the following quote from Anderson’s article: “You might think of Al Lewis, Vik Khanna and Tom Emerick as the Three Musketeers in the fight against wellness programs.“* Al and I are co-authors of the Amazon best seller, Cracking Health Costs. It describes flaws in typical corporate wellness schemes, which while profitable to wellness vendors are useless at best and can actually be harmful to workers health at worst, not to mention the inconvenience and costs of going to doctors for all that screening. Concerns about wasted productivity, anyone?

How can wellness programs harm worker health? One way is by promoting gross over-testing and excessive screening by tools that have very high error rates and rates of false positives, e.g., PSA screens.

One good byproduct of dumping your wellness program is to avoid all the costly and burdensome reporting ACA requires. Yet another good byproduct is letting your employees do their work at work instead of spending non-productive time every year in wellness lectures, filling out health risk assessments, reading wellness-related emails and brochures, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

How can “wellnessophiles” in companies truly believe that their employees don’t already know that smoking, overeating, lack of exercise and excessive consumption of concentrated sugars are not good for them? Do wellness proponents truly believe that the employees’ doctors haven’t already addressed those issues…not to mention public service announcements, health classes in high school and so on? Do proponents think their employees who smoke have never noticed warning labels on cigarette packs?

I meet a lot of people from various walks of life. Occasionally, I ask them if their employer has a wellness program and, if so, what do they think about it. The typical first reaction is they roll their eyes. The most common comment is that the company’s wellness program is “just another [insert unflattering adjective here] HR program.” That’s usually followed by comments best described as lampooning the programs, as in “you’re not gonna believe this but…” type of comments.

Interestingly, I meet HR executives who admit their wellness program are ineffective and costly, yet they cling to them. They usually give one of two reasons. One is that they don’t want to admit that their program is a big waste of money. Another common rational is some version of “Too many of our employees are unhealthy; we gotta do something.” (I put that in roughly the same category as, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”) That line of thinking is bureaucracy at its worst. You would never spend your own money that way…or maybe they would?  Hmm.

I get asked, if not wellness then what? My reply is anything that might actually save money or get better care for your workers, e.g., centers of excellence and direct contracting with providers. There is some promising work on reference-based pricing and better pharmacy management. Also, I believe we may have a surge of international medical travel in the future, too, especially to places like Health City Cayman Island (HCCI), about an hour’s flight from Miami and one of the best-quality hospitals and clinics in this hemisphere. I have visited HCCI a number of times and met a number of their surgeons. They are excellent.

See also: EEOC Caves on Wellness Programs  

I tried various forms of wellness in my career of running large sell-insured plans. I tried to make them work, but in the end none of them were effective, and some actually drove up health costs in a way a steely-eyed CFO would quickly understand. For about half my career, I reported through the CFO chain, not HR. CFOs really get the numbers and ask the tough ROI questions.

HR executives, take note: You can increase your status and respect if you just get out of wellness. Again, it’s time to move on. While wellness at work was a noble notion and one that made sense to many on the surface, it’s time to “fess” up to your bosses. They will appreciate your message and appreciate the reduction of wasteful spending.

Tom Emerick’s latest book is An Illustrated Guide to Personal HealthFor further information on this topic, see the They Said What blog by Al Lewis and Vik Khanna.

What Loneliness Does to Your Health

One of the myriad reasons workplace wellness is not performing well is that all humans have about 100 risk factors, of which obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are only four. If those four are in pretty good shape but the other 96 are out of whack, don’t expect good health results.

Further, putting bandages on symptoms of metabolic disease has limitations. Such bandages do not address the root causes of metabolic syndrome. According to Wiki, “Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving used for identifying the root causes of faults or problems. A factor is considered a root cause if removal thereof from the problem-fault sequence prevents the final undesirable event from recurring; whereas a causal factor is one that affects an event’s outcome but is not a root cause. Though removing a causal factor can benefit an outcome, it does not prevent its recurrence within certainty.” [Emphasis mine.]

One thing sorely missing from most modern wellness methods is RCA. Unless one deals with RCA in metabolic syndrome, it will continue to recur.

Some other huge health risks factors are job misery, terrible marriages, very poor money-handling skills, envy, general lack of contentment in life and loneliness. Another health risk is how far you live from a “dial-911 first responder.” Yet another is how safe your neighborhood is. I could go on and on. Worksite wellness does nothing to address the vast majority of personal health risks. My book, An Illustrated Guide to Personal Health, elaborates on such health risks.

This article will cover just one of those risks, loneliness, which among other things is a root cause of metabolic syndrome. (Let’s hope this information does not inspire true believers in wellness penalties to look for ways to charge lonely employees higher payroll deductions.)

Loneliness harms your immune system, makes you depressed, diminishes cognitive skills and can lead to heart disease, vascular disease, cancer and more. Loneliness is roughly the health risk equivalent of being a diabetic who smokes and drinks too much. Read on.

An article from the National Science Foundation explores the health hazards of loneliness. According to this article, “Research at Rush University has shown that older adults are more likely to develop dementia if they feel chronic loneliness.”

Moreover, John Cacioppo, neuroscience researcher of the University of Chicago, says of loneliness, “One of the things that surprised me was how important loneliness proved to be. It predicted morbidity. It predicted mortality. And that shocked me.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently wrote, “The combination of toxic effects [of loneliness] can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system and increase the risk for vascular, inflammatory and heart disease.”

According to studies in Europe, loneliness has about the same health risk as obesity.

An article in Caring.com says, “A 2010 Brigham Young University review of studies involving more than 300,000 people concluded that loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.

This is a headline in the U.K.’s Express: “Loneliness is as big a KILLER as diabetes.” The article describes how loneliness is like a deadly disease that decreases life expectancy and makes you more susceptible to cancer, heart disease and stroke. The study behind that conclusion was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Here are some personal observations:

Why do many people have so few friends as they age?

  • Maintaining long-term friendships takes a lot of work and investment of time.
  • Don’t let your career stand in the way. Don’t wait for someone to befriend you; reach out.
  • Some people have invested their time and energy solely in a spouse, who may predecease them by 25 years, or in children, who fly the nest in time.
  • Many people have invested much in work-related friendships, which, while genuine at the time, can wilt almost immediately when they retire or move on.
  • In friendships, one has to give more than he takes. Make yourself likable. Who wants to spend time with someone who complains all the time? People like that are often avoided by people around them.
  • Be a good listener.
  • If you’re lonely, try joining something…a place of worship, a book club, a hiking club, anything. In every community are places where everyone is welcome.

In the end, a true measure of your wealth is the number of lifelong friends you have. Having lifelong friends is a joy and a perfect cure for loneliness.