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Protecting Employees From Harmful Vendored Wellness Programs: A Wake-Up Call
October 10, 2016

Protecting Employees From Harmful Vendored Wellness Programs: A Wake-Up Call

While previous studies have revealed concerning issues regarding workplace wellness programs, the industry has now crossed a line. The program chosen as the industry's best actually harmed employees.
However, in this case, totaling the “mean change through 1 year” figures below shows that the former swamped the latter: 5293 biometric mean readings improved, while 6397 deteriorated. As was the case with McKesson and is the industry standard measurement technique, dropouts and non-participants are not counted or acknowledged in any other way.
 


Deterioration in Self-Reported Health
Observing those results, one would expect a deterioration in self-rated health as well, and indeed the latter showed a small but statistically significant decline. While some other self-reported health indicators improved slightly, self-rated health is the self-reported indicator most commonly used as a proxy for health, and is considered the most valid self-reported indicator of a patient’s health status and future healthcare utilization. (Once again, in the table below, dropouts and non-participants were excluded.)
 

 
 
Could the Wellsteps Program Caused Boise Employees to Become Unhealthier?
It may be that the Boise employees would have become unhealthier anyway, and that, like the McKesson program, the Wellsteps program made no difference. This conclusion is belied not only by the amount of causality claimed in its report, but also by a few specific undertakings that are known or widely believed to cause health to deteriorate.
 
First, is overscreening. Wellsteps acknowledged in its July 11 posting that screenings should not be done annually, in order to avoid harming employees with overdiagnosis and overtreatment:

 
And yet 4 days later, in the July 15 write up of its Koop Award, Wellsteps noted:

 
More screening reveals more abnormalities, and the more abnormalities people are told they have, the worse they may feel. This is called the “nocebo effect.”
 


 
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