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Workplace Wellness Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Al Lewis wears multiple hats, both professionally and also to cover his bald spot. As founder of Quizzify, he has married his extensive background in trivia with his 30 years experience in healthcare to create an engaging, educational, fully guaranteed and validated, question-and-answer game to teach employees how to spend their money and your money wisely. As an author, his critically acclaimed category-bestselling Why Nobody Believes the Numbers, exposing the innumeracy of the wellness field, was named healthcare book of the year in Forbes. As a consultant, he is widely acclaimed for his expertise in population health outcomes, and is credited by search engines with inventing disease management. As a validator of outcomes, he consults to the Validation Institute, part of an Intel-GE joint venture.
Incorrect or Harmful Advice on Health Risk Assessments      
Medical professionals give harmful or incorrect advice all the time. What makes health risk assessment (HRA) advice uniquely harmful is that:
  1. this advice is presented as fact;
  2. it is not offered in conjunction with a medical professional;
  3. it is not customized to the individual;
  4. often it is obviously or at least arguably wrong; and
  5. employees are given a “choice” of listening to the advice or losing money.

The 2 most widely used HRAs are Cerner and Optum. Here is an example of advice right off the front page of Cerner’s brochure:

This blood pressure is not “higher than what is ideal.” Quite the contrary, the revealed “pulse pressure” of 20 (110 minus 90) strongly indicates advanced heart failure. This employee should be rushed to the emergency room. (More than likely it was a false positive, because wellness vendors are not required to understand what they are doing. One vendor offers 5 days of training to franchisees, half what the Four Seasons gives housekeepers. The franchisees typically have a background in “municipality administration, finance or sales.)

Cerner also is way out of date on dairy fat, which turns out to be protective against diabetes and possibly heart disease. Further, most nonfat yogurt contains added sugar, which Cerner overlooks under “make healthier choices.”

It’s also possible that these findings are wrong, but something this controversial should not be represented as factual in advice that employees are required to read in order to avoid financial penalties.

Optum also offers highly questionable dietary advice:

In addition to lowfat dairy, Optum also recommends avoiding extra fats and oils, despite that fact that olive oil is healthy enough to possibly be called a superfood. Even butter is being rehabilitated by some.

However, the major hazard in Optum’s HRA is the advice that people with chronic pain go get on their doctor’s pain program. This advice is specifically given in states such as Ohio, Indiana, and New Hampshire, where pain programs have historically been synonymous with opioids.

The purpose of this article and this series is to facilitate research for journalists, law makers, and regulators. (A companion article explores the ethics of unlicensed vendors in this unregulated field.) What is curiously unique about this series is that it is entirely based on material provided by the industry itself. This article doesn’t “challenge the data” the industry provides. Quite the contrary, it embraces the data. The data, as seen above, consists of a series of self-incriminating business practices, screenshots, and outcomes intended to raise the questions: “Why is there a law encouraging this corporate behavior? Should the forthcoming regulations continue to protect employers who do this to their employees?”

To a large degree, this series answers these questions, as well, not just with self-incriminating business practices, screenshots, and outcomes, but also backed with a $3 million reward, whose lack of claimants or even applicants speaks volumes about the industry’s faith in its own marketing claims.

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