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Wellness promoter admits a 50% reduction in heart attacks needed to break even

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Who do wellness vendors remind you of?

Next to a being a Red Sox fan, I can’t imagine anything more depressing than being a member of the Wellness Ignorati. ALL the news about wellness is bad, and can’t be spun, which is just as well because the strategy of the Ignorati is not to “spin,”  It’s to ignore facts rather than debate them. This prevents a news cycle, and reduces the odds that customers find out wellness doesn’t work.

Still, I am not sure how they would spin their way out of their latest debacle even if they tried.

CFO Magazine just posted a set of four essays in a debate. Mine summarizes the “con” arguments in 600 words.  Since most of the first-string Ignorati refuse to debate, the editors found Mike Tinney and Mike Booth to pen the “pro” side.  (No, we haven’t heard of them either.)  Mr. Tinney urges CFOs to “take a leap of faith” on wellness ROI.  Not sure that’s a compelling argument for an audience of CFOs, to put it mildly.

Indeed, one might conclude that, like the Red Sox, apparently the Ignorati don’t have much of a bench.

But wait…there’s more.  Once again, the mantra: “In wellness, you don’t have to challenge the data to invalidate it. You merely have to read the data. It will invalidate itself” proves true. Mr. Tinney says to assume you have 1000 employees, and they will have about 2 heart attacks. Then he says: “If even one less [sic] person has a heart attack,” you save enough to pay for the program. What he failed to note is, in that hypothetical, a reduction of one heart attack would be a 50% reduction in heart attacks.  No wellness promoter, even the most dishonest ones, say you can achieve remotely close to a 50% reduction in heart attacks. Hence, he is admitting you need an impossible reduction in events just to break even.

While reducing the number of heart attacks by one sounds feasible on its face, multiply the size of the population by 100. Now you have 100,000 people generating 200 heart attacks. Mr. Tinney says you need to avoid a Nobel Prize-worthy 100 of those heart attacks just to break even. By contrast, the HERO report achieved a zero reduction in their study.

So much for Mr. Tinney’s argument. But, hey, it beats Mike Booth’s defense of wellness. Incredibly, Mike Booth is still quoting the Harvard study. At this point every member of the Wellness Ignorati knows that study has been thoroughly debunked and basically retracted by its author (who says she has no interest in discussing wellness any more, and blames readers for misinterpreting her conclusion), so quoting this study without mentioning these tidbits is basically lying. It’s only slightly better than quoting the study linking autism to vaccines without mentioning it’s a fraud.

So that’s who’s promoting wellness now:  yet another guy who can’t do math, and yet another guy who is either deliberately misleading people or lacks access to the internet.

More big news is that RAND finally came out of the closet altogether against wellness. No nuances, no “on the other hands”, no chance of being misinterpreted: Wellness is a loser.

Quizzify Q in B and W

Quizzify has GE-Intel validation.

Basically, every posting, every article, whether pro or con, leads an informed reader to the conclusion that wellness is a dumb idea.  By contrast, even the Red Sox occasionally win a game.


8 Comments

  1. Sam Lippe says:

    In your course you advised us to use the HCUP database to check event rates. It looks like heart attacks are only about 1 per 1000,not 2 per 2000, so that reduction means wiping out heart attacks to break even. Can’t believe you missed that one.

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    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      Good catch but I didn’t miss it. What I was trying to do was invalidate the conclusion just using the essay itself, rather than bringing in extra sources. Hence the mantra about self-invalidating. Of course you are right…and I am impressed enough that you noticed that I would invite you to apply for certification gratis now that you’ve the course. Curiously even though the ignorati could benefit greatly from this course, no Mercer consultant, no Koop Committee member, no co-author of the HERO report has ever taken it. They prefer to be consistently wrong than to actually learn something. Truly a Sergeant Schultz approach to professional education.

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  2. Ron Burt says:

    Al, wellness isn’t a dumb idea, just certain wellness programs should focus more on the value proposition rather than bending over backwards to demonstrate an ROI. the concept of wellness is a very good idea and one worth promoting and offering within an employer setting. Staying well is better than being sick–wouldn’t you agree?

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    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      Ron, sorry it took a while to get back–was out of the country. (Central Europeans smoke like chimneys, eat stuff that looks like it should be going right to their arteries, but their whole life is exercise because many don’t own cars…and outlive us by several years.) I would certainly agree with you, but with one asterisk: It has to be wellness done for employees, not wellness done to employees. We tend to conflate them but they are very different.

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  3. Mike Tinney says:

    Al, couple of thoughts…

    1 – Thanks for the press. Always appreciated.
    2 – Thanks for making me the “smarter dummie” in your assessment. It’s an honor to be nominated.
    3 – (And I type this with a friendly smile on my face) you’re deliberately mis-stating my message and you know it.

    I’m all for healthy debates (not as much a fan of internet mudslinging). When you read my piece you know I’m saying “yeah ROI’s are difficult to prove, you either care about the health of your population or you don’t.”
    If you looked up my company then you’ll know we’re the upstart disrupter in the space, very non traditional in our approach and thinking.

    FWIW I think debating about ROI’s on wellness is akin to straightening deckchairs on the Titanic. We have a health epidemic in the country. If we continue, our kids will not outlive their parents. We should all care about or own health, and the health of our friends and colleagues. A company health initiative is a valid means of approaching the problem.

    Also, Ron Burt, I think you’re spot on.

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    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for commenting. Unlike Ron Goetzel’s blog and Steve Aldana’s linkedin group, we print all comments, even ones that disagree. I’m not challenging your position (we all agree that a healthier employee is better than an unhealthier one), only your math. And I’m not “challenging” your math. I’m invalidating it. You say you need a 50% reduction in heart attacks to roughly break even. 2 heart attacks reduced to 1 is 50%.

      Tell ya what, I’m all for disruption, as you can see from http://www.quizzify.com. Submit your results for validation by me or Intel-GE Validation Institute, and I’ll become a major supporter, as I am always looking for companies to recommend.

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      • Mike Tinney says:

        Al,

        Sorry again, and with all due respect, you guys are honing in on a hypothetical example, taking it out of context, and skipping over my point. A point that is ironically fairly well aligned with your views on the traditional wellness industry.

        That’s fine, I visited the link and took a look at your game. (Which is actually a test, not a game.) I perceive now that your attack/ debunk strategy is part of a PR drive to build awareness for your solution. As a fellow disruptor, I wish you the best in your venture.

        Out of curiosity, how are you liking Heroku?

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      • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

        It seems to do the job. Yes, I think we are both aligned in some ways. But it does seem fairly central to your argument that eliminating 1 heart attack almost breaks you even.

        By the way, it’s actually the other way around with the solution/debunking. We’ve been debunking for years and people would always say: “So what should we do instead?” We didn’t start embarking on a solution until about 6 months ago, in order to fill the void created by HR directors who want to “do wellness” but not harm their employees through overscreening (see most recent post), damage their morale, or lose money.

        Best of luck in your disruption as well.

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