Tag Archives: springbuk

2017 Deplorables Awards — Runners Up

It’s time for the 2017 Deplorables Awards, lovingly bestowed on those vendors who do the best job making other vendors look good. 

The good news is that you don’t have to actually win the Deplorables Award to sue me.  Runners-up are eligible, too. Here is my address for hand-service delivery most of the year:

890 Winter Street #208, Waltham MA 02451

In case you decide to sue me between June 22 and Aug. 8, use:

8 Paddock Circle, Chilmark, MA 02535

And don’t leave out my attorney:

Josh Gardner, GARDNER & ROSENBERG P.C.33 Mount Vernon St., Boston, MA 02108

I don’t know how much more I can do for you, other than lick the envelope. So go for it. Don’t make me beg.

But, remember, unlike with your usual business model, in court you are required to actually tell the truth (I would be happy to explain to you how that works), meaning there is no chance of your winning — or likely even avoiding summary judgment, because none of the evidence is in dispute. It’s all your own writings. Oh, and I do my own cross, which means you won’t be able to find an expert witness. Anyone who knows enough about wellness to be an expert witness also knows enough about wellness to know that attempting to defend you would be a humiliating, on-the-record experience.

And there is always the chance that some annoying jerk might blog about it…

The 2017 Runners-Up

Springbuk and Fitbit

As many of you recall, earlier in the year we analyzed the study done by Springbuk that was secretly financed by Fitbit. Or maybe I need new glasses, because I just couldn’t find the disclosure in the Springbuk report that this paean to Fitbit was financed by Fitbit, much as Nero used to have the judges award him Olympic medals.

Coincidentally, the study showed Fitbit saving gobs of money because employees taking more than 100 steps a day spend less money than those taking fewer. However, a simple tally of one’s own footsteps shows that it is impossible not to take 100 steps a day unless you are both:

  1. in a hospital bed; and also
  2. on dialysis.

This 100 steps-a-day threshold was repeated many times in the study, with no explanation of how that number came to be. However, it turns out we owe these two outfits an apology. Fitbit and Springbuk have told a number of people privately (not publicly, to avoid an embarrassing news cycle) that they didn’t really mean to say that 100 steps a day constituted activity. They meant to say that taking 100 steps a day implied you had your Fitbit on. My apologies for failing to read their minds that their conclusions were based on reading people’s minds to determine whether they wore the Fitbit deliberately, or simply forgot/remembered/cared to put their Fitbit on.

Springbuk and Fitbit never did explain — privately or publicly or to anyone — how employees who took an average number of steps during the baseline year could show huge savings by taking an average number of steps in the study year, too.

They also never explained how these two statements didn’t completely contradict each other, even though I specifically asked them to in a personal letter, excerpted here:

Third, can you reconcile this statement…:

“The materials in this document represent the opinion of the authors and not representative of the views of Springbuk, Inc. Springbuk does not certify the information, nor does it guarantee the accuracy and completeness of such information.”

…with this statement:

“This demonstration of impact achieved by integrating Fitbit technology into an employee wellness program reinforces our belief in the power of health data and measurement in demonstrating ROI,” said Rod Reasen, co-founder and CEO of Springbuk. 

National Business Group on Health

Next up is the National Business Group on Health. Last year, they made the list for criticizing the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for not demanding enough screenings, in a country that is drowning in them. Not content to rest on those laurels, this year they earned an Honorable Mention for inviting Dr. Oz to keynote on the role of quackery in corporate wellness, and perhaps tell us about his latest lose-weight-by-eating-chocolate miracle diet.

See also: How Advisers Can Save Healthcare  

Health Enhancement Research Organization

HERO, of course, also earns a runner-up award. 2017 will be remembered as the year they finally came to grips with the realization that a business model based on fabricating outcomes requires that perpetrators possess that critical third IQ digit. Without that extra “1”, an organization trafficking in math that can at best be considered fuzzy is going to be outed.

This year’s set of lies?  By way of background, their 2016 poison-pen letter insisted they had fabricated that data set showing that wellness loses money without disclosing that it was fabricated — and also never reviewed their fabricated data before publication. Early in the year, I had the insight that, wow, this “fabricated” chapter in their guidebook is so much better than the other chapters that something is amiss. No one at HERO can analyze data competently…and yet, here it was, a competent data analysis.

I did something I had never thought to do before, which was look up the actual author of that chapter. It was Iver Juster, MD. He was a great analyst even before he read all my books, took all my courses and achieved all my certifications in Critical Outcomes Report Analysis.

So I called Iver. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Whereas Paul Terry and Ron Goetzel had insisted that Iver fabricated the data, Iver said that, of course he didn’t — whatever made me think that?  (“If it wasn’t real, I would have disclosed that,” he observed. Of course, he would have. Iver has tremendous integrity.)
  2. The board discussed and reviewed his chapter at length and made helpful suggestions, for which he was quite grateful. This review process required “countless hours,” just as the HERO document says:

The number of  transparent lies HERO tells could make a president blush. In the immortal words of the great philosopher LL Cool J, they lied about the lies they lied about.

Even though 2017 was an off-year for them in terms of the number of lies, they still told enough to be named a runner-up.

Wellness Corporate Solutions

Next is Wellness Corporate Solutions, famous for its crash-dieting contests. WCS now offers a water-drinking contest. The idea is to set up a “challenge” for your team to drink more water than other teams. They call this a “healthy competition.” I guess they didn’t get the memo that forcing yourself to drink when you don’t want to drink, just to make more money, is anything but healthy. Here is a novel idea: Drink when you are thirsty.  Evolution 1, WCS 0.

Perhaps as an encore, WCS, Dr. Oz and the National Business Group on Health could team up to offer a chocolate-eating contest.

I looked into this outfit to see where they get their ideas. The CEO previously ran something called the Washington Document Service. That qualifies her to run a wellness company. As Star Wellness says, to run a wellness company successfully, your background needs to be in sales, or “municipality administration.” After all, what is more central to administering a municipality than documents?

Wellsteps

What fun would a list of runners-up be without Wellsteps, the  proud recipient of the 2016 Deplorables Award? While their streams of consciousness weren’t as memorable in 2017 as in 2016 (“It’s fun to get fat. It’s fun to be lazy“), they get credit for trying. Their 2017 weight-loss campaign was headlined: “This campaign is not really about weight loss, it is about helping you apply the behavioral secrets of those who have lost weight.”

So if your kids ever want you to teach them how to ride a bike, say: “It’s not really about riding a bike. It’s about helping you apply the secrets of people who have ridden bikes.”

And what secrets are we talking about? What person who has lost weight doesn’t brag to everyone or even write a book?  If there is a secret to weight loss, like eating chocolate, Wellsteps owes it to the country to tell them. Don’t make us beg.

See also: Should Wellness Carry a Warning Label?  

Odds and Ends

No Koop Award winner this year, but an honorable mention to past winners and runners up for their commitment to wellness:

Sounds like in 2018 the logical winners would be Philip Morris, or maybe the Asbestos Corporation of America.

Veering briefly into the public sector, kudos to Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R-NC5) for introducing the Required Employee DNA Disclosure Act. Even HERO thought it was a dumb idea…and their threshold for thinking something that increases wellness industry revenue is a dumb idea is quite high, having all rallied behind the Johnson & Johnson fat tax, in which companies would be required to disclose the weight of their employees.

Next up…the winner of the 2017 Deplorables Award

Fitbit’s Impossible Claims on Wellness

In wellness, it’s totally legal to lie to customers. Indeed, if you don’t, you’ll probably lose them, since your competitors are happy to do exactly that, and most customers aren’t going to notice anyway.

In securities, though, it is totally illegal to lie to shareholders or to pay someone to write a favorable but dishonest report on your product, with the intent of propping up the stock price.

This brings up to Fitbit, and a recent report on savings allegedly generated by its activity trackers, published by Springbuk. Let’s leave aside for a moment the value of activity trackers to users. “Like” is not the issue in this savings claim. The issue is whether the math works.

And it doesn’t.

The Springbuk report of savings and outcomes for Fitbit was impossible. Among the clinical issues is the study design itself: The report defines “active” as taking 100 steps a day. However, as the previous installment showed, it is impossible not to take 100 steps in a day without being so sick you can’t get out of bed. So rather than being the threshold for being counted as an “active” person, as the Springbuk study says, it should be the threshold for being a person who can get out of bed. And of course, people who can get out of bed will by definition have lower healthcare costs than people who can’t get out of bed, whether or not they wear a Fitbit.

See also: Are Patients Ready to Take Control?  

Among the mathematical issues, it is not possible to reduce costs by 46% (one of the claims made) with a fitness device, because in the working-age population, only a small number of hospital admissions are caused by not taking enough steps.

Further, in addition to the apparent mathematical and clinical impossibility of Springbuk’s results, the author — and Fitbit — refused to respond to the following query, which was sent multiple times.

Hi Mr. Daniels,

I have some questions about your report. Perhaps I’ve gotten some things wrong, so I’d love to hear from you in the next 3 business days, if I have.

First, isn’t it the case that anyone who is not in a wheelchair walks at least 100 steps a day, Fitbit or no Fitbit? Is that the threshold for “active” as opposed to “bedridden” ?

Second, Figure 2c indicates that the very fact of being in the “engaged” group, even if you never get out of bed, reduces costs by 30%+. How is this possible? A corollary: It would seem that all savings are being attributed to Fitbit, at least in the Fitbit interpretation. They also seem to be taking credit for this: “266 employees who used their Fitbit tracker for at least half the duration of the program decreased their healthcare costs by 45.6% on average.”

Third, can you reconcile this statement…:

“The materials in this document represent the opinion of the authors and not representative of the views of Springbuk, Inc. Springbuk does not certify the information, nor does it guarantee the accuracy and completeness of such information.”

…with this statement:

“This demonstration of impact achieved by integrating Fitbit technology into an employee wellness program reinforces our belief in the power of health data and measurement in demonstrating ROI,” said Rod Reasen, co-founder and CEO of Springbuk.”

Fourth, how is it possible to show basically no separation for 182 days of getting out of bed (taking 100 steps a day) from being bedridden, but massive separation for getting out of bed for 274 days? I can’t find the explanation of the exercise science that would lead to that result. It would seem that there is some huge physiological disadvantage to those extra 92 days of taking 100 steps.

Fifth, am I missing the disclosure that Fitbit paid you to do this study? I can’t find it anywhere. Or did you do this on a pro bono basis?

Sixth, would you have come up with this same result if you had been paid by a hedge fund that was shorting Fitbit stock and wanted to show no savings?

Seventh, since most wellness-related healthcare spending is unavoidable altogether by walking 100 steps a days or any other amount for 12 months, I’m wondering if you were able to determine approximately which elements of healthcare spending were reduced, in order to get a 45.6% reduction in costs? You would have to wipe out all hospitalizations, for example – and get roughly a 10% reduction in everything else.

Thanks very much. If you would like to reply, I’ll look forward to your reply by 5 PM EDT on Wednesday 5/24.

Assuming Fitbit paid Springbuk (that’s a big assumption — this obvious conflict of interest is not disclosed anywhere, so the reader has to decide whether Springbuk collected money, or whether it did this study out of the goodness of its heart), one of four outcomes is possible:

  1. Springbuk genuinely thinks, among other things, that walking 100 steps a day for 274 days reduces healthcare costs by 27% vs. walking 100 steps a day for only 182 days. No crime there, other than the one committed by the grade school that granted them a diploma. It’s unlikely they think this, because Springbuk says they are “obsessed with analytics” and that they sell “the leading health analytics software…[with] powerful insights.” So if Springbuk truly believes their own report, then congratulations are in order: they have accomplished more in this one analysis than most extremely stupid people accomplish in a lifetime. (Not an original line, as Veep fans know, but apropos nonetheless.)
  2. Springbuk wanted to show savings because they were being well-paid to do so, but Fitbit put no pressure on them when they gave them the check. Once again, doesn’t say much for Springbuk’s ethics, but Fitbit did not commit a crime.
  3. Fitbit paid Springbuk to lie for them, in order to impress prospects and customers. Once again, no crime. There wouldn’t be enough room in the prison system if lying in wellness were a crime. (See http://www.ethicalwellness.org for a list of wellness vendors that have agreed not to lie. It’s not very long.)
  4. Fitbit paid Springbuk to lie for them, in order to inter alia impress investors. This is not legal, any more than if Fitbit made up their own data for that reason. Since many Fitbit analyst reports make reference to savings of “up to $1500 per employee per year,” and since this study appears to be one of only two justifications for that statement (the other being equally suspect), there is a case to be made that Fitbit’s stock price would indeed be lower if they told the truth: that no disinterested researcher has ever found more than a trivial impact on employee health status or healthcare insurance cost.

We don’t know which of these four is the case. Is Springbuk dishonest, or just incompetent? Does Fitbit genuinely believe that wearing their device could magically reduce healthcare costs for U.S. corporations by hundreds of billions of dollars, or are they willing to lie in order to boost revenues and their share price?

See also: IoT’s Implications for Insurance Carriers

We look forward to hearing the answers to these questions once the financial media gets hold of this posting.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Al Lewis individually. They do not necessarily represent the views of Insurance Thought Leadership. Therefore all threats of lawsuits should be directed to the former, to which I say: “Go ahead. Make my day.”