By Thomas Emerick

First Posted at Cracking Health Costs on 5/28/2013

Tom Emerick, Host of Cracking Health Costs
Tom Emerick, Host of Cracking Health Costs

Sharon Begley, Reuters’ chief science writer, has written a terrific piece on this breaking news.  Based on a study mandated by Congress, the non-partisan Rand Corporation studied wellness programs of 600 businesses and found only modest returns from workplace wellness, extremely modest.  Please read the full article.

Writes Begley, “Those findings run contrary to claims by the mostly small firms that sell workplace wellness to companies ranging from corporate titans to mom-and-pop operations.”

Let’s look at examples the kinds of returns you can expect from your wellness program:

  • Weight loss? One pound a year for three years.  
  • Cholesterol improvement? Nothing significant. 
  • Smoking cessation? Nothing significant.
  • Dollar savings for participants per year compared to non-participants?  A modest $3.46 per month after five years, and much less in earlier years. (But at what cost?) Sadly, even that small saving level is statistically insignificant.
  • Reductions in emergency room use or hospital stays? None found.

Yet, “Employers told RAND they were ‘overwhelmingly’ confident that workplace wellness reduces medical costs.”   To understand this stark disconnect between reality and benefit manager perceptions, again I urge you to read the full article.

Some will defend these programs as useful recruiting/retention/engagement tools.  Tom Emerick’s personal opinion is that the employees you recruit and retain by your wellness program may be the wrong employees.   BTW, this is not really big news to readers of Cracking Health Costs, but it is good to see the Rand Corporation, among others, exposing wellness failures.

Patricia Salber MD, MBA (@docweighsin)
Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also the CEO of Health Tech Hatch, the sister site of TDWI that helps innovators tell their stories to the world. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.


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