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Greatest Hits Collection: Staywell

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Collaborating with Staywell may not be enhancing the American Heart Association’s reputation.

Occasionally we have to attend to our Day Jobs and can’t post regularly. Fortunately, we have access to a bolus of posts from mid-2014, the posts that went up on this site initially. There were too many stories to highlight, so we decided to inventory them, in order to fill in gaps when we didn’t have time for new posts.

High on that list would be Staywell. First was their collaboration with Mercer, in which they agreed to tell British Petroleum that they found $17,000/person savings.  They knew those savings were mathematically impossible since the average person only spends $6000/year.  They also forgot that they themselves had said it was only possible to save $100/person.

Following on the heels of that was a collaboration with the American Heart Association to create screening guidelines that (surprise) call for much more screening than the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends.

In both cases, we welcomed — and in the latter case offered $1000 honorarium for — responses to our questions, but our good-faith offer was met with silence.

Also, in both articles Staywell continued to cite Katherine Baicker’s study that she herself no longer defends, with the added wrinkle of referring to it as “recent” in the hopes that no one looks at the endnotes and sees that it was submitted for publication in 2009 and covered studies from a decade before that. With any luck they’ll have enough integrity to stop citing that study now that RAND has invalidated it. A good rule of thumb is that anyone who cites Baicker’s study without noting that no one (including Professor Baicker) believes that 3.27-to-1 ROI any more is prima facie deliberately misleading people. It is no longer credible to say one doesn’t know that her study has been shown to be hooey and that she is no longer defending it (and actually says she has no more interest in wellness).

Quizzify Q in B and W

Our health benefit education will never break your heart

We recommend click-throughs to both studies. Each raises questions that Staywell refused to answer, after initial conversations which confirmed they knew about these issues. You’ll also see how the American Heart Association was shocked, shocked, that anyone would question their integrity (perhaps they haven’t read The Big Fat Surprise) but then let it go, rather than create a news cycle.

Staywell also helped give British Petroleum a Koop Award.  Nice to be on the award committee AND be an award sponsor–makes it easy to give your customers awards.  With one or two exceptions, we can’t remember the last time the Koop Award went to a company with no connection to a sponsor or committee member. Perhaps someone could let us know?

American Heart Association promotes StayWell while violating its conflict of interest policy

American Heart AssociationStayWell


Short Summary of Company:

AHA wellness: “The American Heart Association’s Worksite Wellness Kit encourages companies to give employees an excuse to get away from their desks.”

Staywell: “StayWell helps clients across the health care spectrum address the changing landscape like no other company. We leverage the latest technology, enhanced analytics, and deep consumer insights in an integrated portfolio of best-in-class client solutions.”

Materials Being Reviewed

Questions for AHA

Your conflict-of-interest statement says you “make every effort to avoid actual or potential conflicts of interest that may arise as a result of an outside relationship.” Why doesn’t letting the Chief Science Officer of a wellness company write your wellness policy citing his own articles in support of wellness violate that policy?

ANS: Refused to answer

Were you aware that Staywell perpetrated a scheme in which they worked with Mercer to convince British Petroleum that their outcomes were 100 times better than what Staywell itself said was possible?

ANS: Refused to answer

Why did you allow a writer to source his own articles, thus creating an AHA policy stand that is clearly in his own financial interest?

ANS: Refused to answer

Is it representative of your peer review policy not to “vet” your peer reviewers to see if they themselves were involved in scandals that are very relevant to the article they are reviewing?

ANS: Refused to answer

Why did you as an organization and the writers of that policy decline The Health Care Blog’s invitation to defend your article against observations that it was totally conflicted and based on data known to be invalid?

ANS: Refused to answer

Why did you allow the writers to cherry-pick the available literature, ignoring the overwhelming evidence against your policy and instead continue to cite the old “Harvard study” whose lead author has now walked it back three times?

ANS: Refused to answer

Why did your editors allow the writers to call this (disavowed) Harvard study “recent” even though it was written in 2009 using data with an average date of 2004?

ANS: Refused to answer

Why did your writers knowingly cite studies that no legitimate health services researcher would find acceptable due to obvious study design flaws, like comparing active motivated participants to non-motivated non-participants, claiming that an outcome on volunteers who persisted in the program for three years is representative of the population as a whole, and taking credit for risk reductions in previously high-risk people that would have happened anyway?

ANS: Refused to answer

Why didn’t you mention that the screening frequencies you are endorsing are far in excess of guidelines set by the United States Preventive Services Task Force?

ANS: Refused to answer

As an association named for the human heart, how come you didn’t publish cautions that the screening frequencies you’re recommending can lead to overdiagnosis, overtreatment and other cardiometabolic harms?

ANS: Refused to answer

Postscript:  Any apologies, retractions, explanations etc. other than answering the questions

A July 17 email from co-author Ross Arena: “I am troubled by these accusations, as is AHA.  I have included an AHA representative who will address this.”  [No AHA response followed.]

A July 17 response from us noted that technically these are observations, not accusations.  We “observed” that their screening policy was co-authored by the CEO of  a screening company.  (We offered to link them to dictionary.com to see the difference between the two words, but they declined.)

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