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Interactive Health doubles down on diagnoses (Part 1)

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So much to say about Interactive Health, so little room on the internet. As a result this will be a two-part blog, at least.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we are going to be highlighting the most positively influential people and organizations in the field. Please go vote or submit additional nominations.

The following axiom proffered in Surviving Workplace Wellness used to be ironclad:

“In wellness, you don’t have to challenge the data to invalidate it. You merely have to read the data. It will invalidate itself.”

I thought this axiom applied to every vendor claiming huge savings. But, alas, Interactive Health is an exception. Yessiree, it turns out you can invalidate their data without reading the data.  It had been easy enough to invalidate their data by actually reading it — so much so that my original observations about them made it intp the Wall Street Journal .  They counterpunched by redacting all the raw statistics on risk reduction. (They didn’t realize I kept a screenshot, which will be the subject of Part II.)

Since risk reduction is what generates financial outcomes, taking risk reduction stats out of an financial outcomes report is like the movie theater in South Korea that decided The Sound of Music was too long, so they edited out the songs.

The Wall Street Journal debacle taught them half their lesson: they learned not to publish data, because data will obviously invalidate their savings claims. Last week they learned the other half of their lesson the hard way, which is that they shouldn’t publish anything, period. On Linkedin they bragged — without any data at all — about the gobs of money they saved by discovering all sorts of undiagnosed conditions and achieving trivial reductions in overall risk scores.

Of course it’s mathematically impossible to achieve massive savings by making asymptomatic employees anxious about diseases they almost certainly don’t have in any clinically meaningful sense, and/or slightly by reducing risk factors. With that in mind, I merely asked a question or two about the whereabouts of the data to support this mathematical impossibility…and <poof> their posting disappeared from Linkedin.

Even absent the data, it’s well-known that Interactive’s modus operandi is to do exactly that — attribute massive savings to trivial risk score reductions and “newly discovered conditions.”  Neither m.o. is unique to them. Indeed both are common enough to have names — the Wishful Thinking Multiplier and Hyperdiagnosis. Interactive’s brilliance is in marrying the two.

Interactive Health, the Wishful Thinking Multiplier and Hyperdiagnosis

The Wishful Thinking Multiplier is defined as:

total savings/total reduction in risk factors. 

The Multiplier originated with Staywell allegedly saving British Petroleum million of dollars when only a few hundred employees reduced a risk factor — which worked out to almost $20,000 for every risk factor reduced. As luck would have it, this Multiplier was about 100 times what Staywell themselves previously claimed was even possible, which in turn was about 100 times what is actually possible.  Yet, as we’ll see in the next installment, Interactive’s Wishful Thinking Multiplier leaves Staywell in the dust.

The practice of wellness vendors bragging about how many sick people they find is called “hyperdiagnosis.”  It originated when Health Fitness Corp breathlessly declared that about 1 in 10 screened Nebraska state employees had cancer.

Hyperdiagnosis differs from “overdiagnosis” in that doctors try to avoid overdiagnosis, because it results in expensive and potentially harmful overtreatment.

By contrast, hyperdiagnosis is something that vendors like Interactive embrace. Indeed, Interactive practically hyperventilates every time someone tests positive for something.  Since Interactive screens for everything under the sun — 38 panels, way more than most checkups and ten times what guidelines recommend — it’s tough to get out of one of their screenings without a false positive finding on something.

Here are examples of their hyperventilation in words and pictures, wisely not naming the client in their Linkedin post to avoid embarrassment:

[Their client] recently shared with their employees the successful outcomes they have achieved. First, hundreds of employees discovered new health conditions they were previously unaware of.

I’m sure the employees shared Interactive’s joy in finding out how sick they are! What employee wouldn’t be excited about such a “successful outcome”? And not just a few employees, but rather almost half are now “at risk” with “newly discovered conditions.”

A vendor bragging that nearly half the employees are might lead you to think: “Where do these people get their ideas?”

Glad you asked. Interactive bases their “proven…amazing results” on a report by an outfit called Zoe Consulting. Let’s take a looksee at Zoe Consulting, to learn more about the people they are basing their entire financial value proposition on.

Hey, Butch, Who Are These Guys?

As you can see from this screenshot, Zoe Consulting is a “top-tier nationally recognized research firm.” (Source: Zoe Consulting.)  Here are the awards they’ve won (with Google’s commentary in parentheses):

  1. Two Koop Awards (they didn’t);
  2. The American Cancer Society Award for Program Excellence (they didn’t);
  3. The Ethel-somebody Leadership Award from UNC (they didn’t); and
  4. The Distinguished Leadership and Service Award from the Association for Workplace Health Promotion (they didn’t).

The last reminds me of a summer job selling Collier’s Encyclopedia door-to-door. Collier’s salespeople were instructed to say: “National Geographic won the Kodacolor Award 10 years in a row, but last year we copped the award from them.” One evening I ran into a Grolier’s salesman, who, as it turned out, used exactly the same line in his pitch, down to the exact same faux-cool-70’s-speak verb right out of The Deuce. I called Kodak to see who really won it, only to learn that no such award existed.

Likewise, one of the many reasons Zoe Consulting didn’t win an award from the Association for Workplace Health Promotion is that no such organization exists. So depending on how you count (and whether you count the Koop Awards as one lie or two), they lied six times in two bullet points, which may be a record even in the wellness industry. Seven if you count “top-tier nationally recognized research firm.” Eight if you count “top-tier” and “nationally recognized” separately. Nine for “unbiased.” To reach a round number, I’d say the tenth would be “research.”  That’s ten lies already.

In other words, Zoe Consulting is a perfect fit for Interactive Health.

Stay tuned for the next installment to learn why.



  1. Mitch Collins says:

    As usual, well done. 


  2. Sam Lippe says:

    What a bunch of liars. I went to Zoe’s website — it seems to have been “suspended” .


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