If you want a preview of Monday’s big wellness debate, look no further than a 3-way exchange (us, New York Times, Ron Goetzel) from late 2014.
First, our November 25th Health Affairs blog did for the wellness industry what Upton Sinclair did for meatpacking. Despite its Thanksgiving-week publication date, it became the #1 most-read for November and #12 for all of 2014, in Health Affairs. (This was the article generating the famous Los Angeles Times moniker for wellness: Scam.)
Next, New York Times “Incidental Economists” Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll had a field day with their followup column. It should be read in its entirety. It’s basically a cut-and-pasted version of our own, with some hilariously scathing color commentary (and we have always said the greatest value wellness vendors deliver is humor).
Their lead line says it all:
“We’ve said it before, many times and in many ways: workplace wellness programs don’t save money.”
Finally, let’s look how Ron spun their elegant smackdown, using his best Goetzel “The Pretzel” twisting and turning of their words:
The recent Health Affairs Blog post by Al Lewis, Vik Khanna, and Shana Montrose titled, “Workplace Wellness Produces No Savings” has triggered much interest and media attention. It highlights the controversy surrounding the value of workplace health promotion programs that 22 authors addressed in an article published in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine titled, “Do Workplace Health Promotion (Wellness) Programs Work?” That article also inspired several follow-up discussions and media reports, including one published by New York Times columnists Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll who answered the above question with: “usually not.”
Four observations about that one paragraph presage Ron’s strategy for Monday.
First, How do you translate Frakt and Carroll saying: “We’ve said it before, many times and in many ways: workplace wellness programs don’t save money” into: “usually not”? Simple, you reference the December “follow-up discussion” by these NYT columnists…but then link to a previous discussion, in September. (Try the link — really.)
Second, our article didn’t “highlight the controversy surrounding” the value of wellness. Our article “highlighted” that pry-poke-and-prod wellness has no value. There is no controversy. We have a proof — now backed with a $1-million reward, in case anyone doesn’t understand the meaning of proof.
Third, Ron writes: “22 authors addressed this” in September 2014. Ron needs to understand that math is not a popularity contest. It doesn’t matter how many wellness vendors want to protect their revenue stream, because the rules of math are strictly enforced. This is a typical Goetzel tactic, sort of like Claude Rains saying: “Owing to the seriousness of this crime we’ve rounded up twice the usual number of suspects.” In any event, two of the non-wellness-vendor authors were horrified to learn that this article had endorsed the Nebraska fraud as a “best practice.”
Finally, he appears to conflate the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine with Health Affairs. The latter is the most respected journal in health policy (impact factor: 4.966), which is why our essay got picked up so broadly. The former is largely a wellness industry mouthpiece with an impact factor of 1.630. Sort of like the old tag line for Hustler: “The Magazine Nobody Quotes.”
What he will try to do is sow doubt, the classic last resort when the facts all go the other way. You saw it from the tobacco industry, and more recently from climate change-deniers. He will bring up all his articles and all his authors and say they are all “peer-reviewed” and say that there is “evidence” on both sides. He’ll use words like “controversy” and “discussion” when in reality it’s settled science (and more importantly, settled math) that prying, poking and prodding employees is nothing more than the Wellness Vendor Full Employment Act, and it’s time to repeal it.
Al: Great post. Mitch