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The Secret Life of Ronald Goetzel: Wellness meets Whack-a-Mole

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In the immortal words of the great philosopher Soeren Mattke of RAND:

“The industry went in with promises of 3 to 1 and 6 to 1 based on health care savings alone – then research came out that said that’s not true – then they said ok we are cost neutral – and now as research says maybe not even cost neutral they say but is really about productivity which we can’t really measure but it’s an enormous return.”

That’s two moles whacked in just one paragraph.

Then when the productivity thing didn’t pan out, they invented something called value-on-investment, which (even though they invented it specifically to show savings) turned out to show massive losses on even the most cursory examination.  Third mole.

Bottom line: all their studies that do actually exist self-invalidate no matter what they claim because — get ready — wellness loses money. Now it looks like there is a fourth mole to whack — Mr. Goetzel’s latest charade is, yeah, maybe virtually all studies in existence reveal losses upon examination, but that studies that don’t actually exist show massive savings.  Perhaps he was inspired by Wellnet, which shows massive savings in “undetected claims cost,” which also don’t exist. Google on “undetected claims costs.” The only hits you get are Wellnet and me making fun of Wellnet.


I was recently forwarded an email containing Ron’s latest musings. I’ve never met the originator of the email, so he could have fabricated the entire thing for all I know. But in terms of credibility, if Ron Goetzel tells me the sky is blue and someone I’ve never met tells me the sky is green, I’d at least go look out the window.

Ron “the Pretzel” Goetzel’s latest twist — since he can’t find fault with my work — is that all the studies I invalidate are published studies, which he acknowledges in this email to be of generally poor quality. He now claims there is a parallel universe of unpublished studies showing savings that are of high quality.  For some reason, this special reserve collection of buried treasure is stashed in a secret hideaway drawer under lock and key in a safe room. (He says his clients don’t want competitors finding out how well they are doing, but could it be they simply prefer not to be publicly humiliated, like most of his other clients?)

The claim that unpublished studies show the greatest savings is ironic. Why? Because Ron previously stated: “Many unsuccessful programs are not reported.


Where Ron and I would agree is that the published studies I have invalidated — like this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and this one — are definitely of low quality.  Maybe that’s because Ron himself:

  1. wrote them;
  2. gave them an award; or
  3. both, since conflict of interest is his modus operandi, or
  4. in the case of Penn State, goaded them into creating a wellness program that became a national punchline.

He did name the three companies that:

  • produce these alleged secret studies, and
  • “pay Truven $250,000 to analyze their numbers.”

The latter would be quite impressive if they do — except that they don’t. I’m not naming them to protect their privacy, but suffice it to say I sent them both the snippet of that email with their names in it, and they got a kick out of it. (“I never, ever, thought this nonsense worked.”) I added that if Ron Goetzel went around bragging that I paid him $250,000 to analyze my numbers, I’d sue for defamation.

On the flip side, he is also telling people (privately, so that I don’t find out about it like this) that I am [blushing] “the least credible person in the industry,” perhaps having forgotten that he had already accidentally admitted that I am the most credible person in the industry. I’m in good company — he also disses the second-most-credible evaluator in the field, for the simple transgression of publishing a high-quality study that showed losses that Ron inadvertently validated, before trying to pretzel his way back from with a series of lies that would make a White House press secretary blush.

He would also have to explain why, if I am so non-credible, he begged to be on the advisory board of the Validation Institute (which I started with Intel-GE Care Innovations). We couldn’t have him on the board because the whole point of the Validation Institute was to be credible, which it is. It is now the official validator for the World Health Care Congress.

He even got David Nash to try to strongarm us. We could have just said no, but what fun would that have been? We said: “Sure, you just have to be certified in Advanced Critical Outcomes Report Analysis first.” The test at the time consisted of finding all the errors in his Nebraska analysis, so he couldn’t earn the CORA certification without admitting that all the claims in the study were fabricated, impossible, or represented industry-leading ignorance of the way prevention works. For example, the very stable Nebraska geniuses “waive[d] all age-related screening guidelines” so that young people could get screens intended only for older people, which would be like “waiving” the minimum age for getting a driver’s license to get more young drivers on the road.

How many errors were there? Eventually, with the help of people getting validated (we had missed a few errors ourselves because there were so many of them), we dedicated an entire chapter of Surviving Workplace Wellness to Nebraska, a chapter which opens as follows:



8 Comments

  1. Sam Lippe says:

    I get the title allusion. Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” where Walter Mitty was totally in his own fantasy world. How many other people will get it, I wonder?

    Like

    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      It’s pretty obscure but you got it within minutes. And it describes Ron perfectly. No one in the triple digit IQ crowd believes this stuff anymore, but in his fantasy world, I’m the one with no credibility.

      Like

  2. Tom Emerick says:

    Amazing that Goetzel is still in business. 90% of companies I speak to these days admit their wellness program was a bust!

    Like

  3. williammcpeck says:

    Given how big worksite wellness has become, if any employer truly does have a wellness program that is saving them big bucks on healthcare spend because of their program, rather than not wanting their competitors to know about it, they would be much wiser to shift their business model to becoming a wellness vendor. They could literally dominate the market! As important as program evaluation is to having a quality program, it is very unfortunate that games are being played around results. Worksite wellness vendors actually did not invent the term value of investment. But since it actually is a financial type measurement (a measure of cost effectiveness), worksite wellness folks are using the term incorrectly. But that should be no surprise either…

    Like

  4. Mitch Collins says:

    Excellent

    Like

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