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For a good laugh, send in your vendor’s HRA for review and grading

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

For some reason in the last few months I’ve been deluged with requests to review health risk assessments (HRAs). Optum and Cerner top the list with multiple requests for review, while Wellsource, Redbrick, Healthmine and of course Interactive Health are also represented.  Virgin Pulse too, but since it was only once and since it was with an NDA, I can’t review it except to say that any company that wants a leg up in its own marketplace should urge its closest competitors to use Virgin Pulse and insist that their employees take all the advice.

Among these HRAs, one stands out as worthwhile…and as we get into the reviews over the next month, you’ll see which one.  The others shouldn’t be used, or perhaps, since for some reason employers refuse to stop using them, they carry a warning label advising employees to ignore most of the advice. The good news is that, even absent a warning label, most employees are possessed of enough common sense not to take advice from HRAs.

In other cases the advice would be straightforward and correct, like telling heavy drinkers to “cut down on your drinking,” except that virtually no heavy drinker actually admits it on an HRA.  (And that particular advice, repeatedly many different ways, is about as useful as telling a depressed person to cheer up.)

You may recall that Wellsteps–the self-proclaimed “best” (meaning “worst”) program in the industry, reported only 20% of employees as drinking (meaning “70%,” the US average), and none to excess (meaning “10%,” the US average).

The self-reported smoking rate? 3%…and most smokers only smoke 3-4 days a week. How silly is that! Everyone knows smokers smoke 5 days a week, with time off for weekends, major holidays, and Beethoven’s Birthday.

In the Soviet Union, workers had a saying: “We pretend to work. They pretend to pay us.” In HRAs, it’s: “We pretend to tell the truth. They pretend to believe us.”

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

If you are an HRA user, you can have your vendor’s HRA reviewed just by giving me a username (maybe your username — you can always go in and change the answers back later if you like) and password.

If you are a vendor and want your HRA reviewed with an eye towards improving it, I can review it privately for a fee.  We would then both agree whether the review can be placed publicly. You would also have the opportunity to say publicly what improvements you are planning on, based on the review.

What would be an example of a question that truly epitomizes what an HRA is all about, that will put a smile on our face?

Well, since you asked…

Um, who isn’t going to say they are a good person?  Think this over a bit harder than Optum did before they decided to highlight this question as an example of their very stable geniusness:

  1. If you are a good person, then by definition, you will answer that you are a good person
  2. If you are not a good person, then by definition, you will answer that you are a good person

Example: Walter White thinks he’s a good person.

Even outcomes-based wellness vendors think they are good people, though not so good that they are willing to have me review their offerings. That’s why it’s up to you.


In the immortal words of the great philosopher Pat Benatar, hit me with your best shot.

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