Influential RAND researcher Soren Mattke had this to say in support of Al Lewis and Vik Khanna’s latest post on the Wellness story “Would the Real Professor Katherine Baicker Please Stand Up?”
“Gentlemen. Great post. Like you, I am disappointed that researchers of the caliber of Kate Baicker and David Cutler do not respond to the mounting debate about their paper. They should defend or disown their work rather than hope that the debate goes away.
In my mind, their paper is a product typical of high-end academic research. Two brilliant professors spot a gap in the evidence on a hot policy topic and decide to go after it. But the actual work gets done by a graduate student in his cubicle without windows or guidance, and then hastily published.
Then the problem arises that the paper becomes hugely influential and people start having a closer look. For our paper on the PepsiCo program, we reviewed in detail the seven publications that Baicker and colleagues called “high quality evidence”. We found that five of those analyzed programs that operated over 20 years ago and most of them had severe methodologic flaws. (John P. Caloyeras, Hangsheng Liu, Ellen Exum, Megan Broderick and Soeren Mattke. Managing Manifest Diseases, But Not Health Risks, Saved PepsiCo Money Over Seven Years. Health Affairs, 33, no.1 (2014):124-131)
Unfortunately, many defenders of the industry continue to take the Baicker paper at face value, while closely scrutinizing or ignoring more nuanced and scientifically sound findings.
So I herewith support your motion!
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Al Lewis, Commentology, David Cutler, Kathleen Baicker, Vik Khanna
Jan 4, 2015
The recent Health Affairs Blog post by Al Lewis, Vik Khanna, and Shana Montrose titled, “Workplace Wellness Produces No Savings” has triggered much interest and media attention. It highlights the controversy surrounding the value of workplace health promotion programs that 22 authors addressed in an article published in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine titled, “Do Workplace Health Promotion (Wellness) Programs Work?” That article also inspired several follow-up discussions and media reports, including one published by New York Times columnists Frakt and Carroll who answered the above question with: “usually not.”
There are certainly many points of contention and areas for continued discussion on this topic. It turns out that Lewis et al. and I agree on many things, and there are other areas where we see things differently. Continue reading “The Value of Workplace Health Promotion (Wellness) Programs”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Al Lewis, Biometric Screenings, Incentives, Ron Goetzel, Vik Khanna, Wellness, Workplace Wellness
Dec 22, 2014
I am a public health professional, educated at the vaunted Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Hygiene and Public Health. I like guns, and I believe the Second Amendment clearly secures the rights of individuals to own firearms.
You read that correctly. I am a public health professional.
And I like guns.
This make me a heretic in American public health, where embracing firearms and the rights of gun owners is a gross violation of orthodoxy.
As a society, our focus on guns and not gun users derives from the shock of mass killings, such as those in Newtown, CT, Aurora, CO, Virginia Tech, and Norway, which has some of the strictest gun control laws on the planet. Mass killings, however tragic, get distorted by saturation media hysterics and 24-hour political grandstanding. What gun opponents refuse to discuss is the precipitous fall in violent crime and deaths by firearms over the past 20 years, and how it coincides with an equally dramatic increase of guns in circulation in the US.
While that isn’t cause and effect, the association is certainly curious.
In 2013, the Institute of Medicine, at the behest of the Centers for Disease Control, produced a report on firearms violence that has been ignored by the mainstream media. The upshot: defensive use of firearms occurs much more frequently than is recognized, “can be an important crime deterrent,” and unauthorized possession (read: by someone other than the lawful owner) of a firearm is a crucial driver of firearms violence.
That report went away for political reasons. Translation. Nobody wanted to talk about it because it raised more questions than it answered.
Continue reading “Why Public Health Needs a New Gun Doctrine”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Gun Control, Institute of Medicine, Newton, public health, Vik Khanna, Virginia Tech, Wellness
Sep 11, 2014
Two weeks ago, Vik wrote a column for the The Health Care Blog on the now infamous meat-and-cheese study done by a team of researchers led by folks from USC. You can read the column, and the hilarious comments, here. I sent the column to one of the researchers, using the messaging available at LinkedIn. Here is that researcher’s response in its entirety:
I feel no need to get into a debate with someone who doesn’t understand basic statistics, how research is conducted, and has written a statement that is blatantly wrong. It does worry me that you are propagating yourself as an “expert” when you can’t seem to critically evaluate or understand a study. I know that this study is not perfect, hardly any are, especially in epidemiology, but the points you bring up in your blog are completely misconstrued and show very poor understanding of research methodology.
If you had actually read and understood the paper you would see that we controlled for waist circumstance [sic] and BMI. Also, this isn’t some random population of fat, low educated, American smokers, it is a nationally representative sample–unfortunately this is what the American population looks like. Finally, the idea that you think our supplemental tables house the real results illustrates your lack of understanding about statistics or how mortality models are run.
That being said, if you come up with a legitimate critique, I would be happy to engage in a friendly debate. When you attack something, I would suggest you make sure you understand it first, otherwise it is hard to legitimize anything else you say. I find it ironic that most of the push back from this paper has been from the general public who don’t have experience doing these types of studies, while for the most part, the scientific community (at least from people at R1 universities) has been fairly receptive.
We are glad to offer this legitimate critique, beginning with what we find in the very first sentence of the Results discussion that is not in the paper itself, but in the supplementary materials: “Using Cox Proportional Hazard Models, we found no association between protein consumption and either all-cause, CVD, or cancer mortality (Table S2).” Table S1 makes the point even more clearly: all-cause mortality in the low protein group was 42.9%. All-cause mortality in the high protein group was 42.9%, meaning that there is ZERO impact on overall mortality from protein variation at the extremes.
Continue reading “The Cheeseburger Study”
Filed Under: Uncategorized
Tagged: Alan Cassels, cardiovascular disease, L-Nutra, Meat and Cheese Study, prevention, Vik Khanna
May 28, 2014
Consider that for the last year or so, we have been treated a deluge of entreaties to reduce our salt intake, with the American Heart Association going so far as to claim that daily sodium intake should not exceed 1,500 mg. This puts it at odds with the Institute of Medicine, and now European researchers whose data indicates that the healthy range for sodium intake appears to be much higher.
Our conversation about sodium, much like advice about purportedly evil saturated fats and supposedly beneficial polyunsaturated fats, exemplifies a national obsession with believing eating more or less of a one or a small number of nutrients is the path to nutritional nirvana.
A few weeks back, an international team of scientists did their level best to feed this sensationalistic beast by producing what’s become known since then as the meat-and-cheese study, because it damned consumption of animal proteins.
Continue reading “Cheeseburger Please, and Make It a Double”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: animal-protein vs. plant-protein, Cancer, Diabetes, L-Nutra, Meat and Cheese Study, Obesity, Population Health, Vik Khanna, Wellness
May 14, 2014
Al’s son once complained to Al’s Aunt Tillie about an overbearing supervisor. Aunt Tillie suggested that he try to work under a different supervisor. Tillie was one of those people – and we all know them – who could be counted on to inadvertently provide punchlines when needed. Conversely, Al is one of those people – and we all know them – who can’t resist setting up those punchlines. So I lamented that this suggestion may not work because, “Aunt Tillie, it’s a sobering fact that 50% of all supervisors are below average.”
Tillie replied, “I blame our educational system for that.”
Likewise, we may need to blame our educational system for Keas’ new poll on workplace stress. To begin with, the lead paragraph from Keas — which like many other companies is “the market leader” in wellness – “reveals” that “4 in 10 employees experience above-average stress.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – (Apr 2, 2014) – Keas (www.keas.com), the market leader in employer health and engagement programs, today released new survey data, revealing four in ten employees experience above average levels of job-related stress. Keas is bringing attention to these findings to kick off Stress Awareness Month, and is also providing additional insight and tips to bring greater awareness to the role of stress in the workplace and its impact on employee health.
Wouldn’t that mean some other employees – mathematically, also 6 in 10 – must be experiencing average or below-average levels of stress? It would seem like mathematically that would have to be the case. However, the Keas poll also “reveals” that while some employees are average in stress, no employee is below-average – a true paradox. Hence Keas’ selfless reasons for publishing this poll: All employees being either average or above average in the stress department means we have a major stress epidemic on our hands. This perhaps explains why Keas is “bringing attention to these findings.”
In a further paradox, Keas also uses the words “average” and “normal” as synonyms, even though they are often antonyms: All of us want our children to be normal but who amongst us wants their children to be average?
Continue reading “Keas Poll on Workplace Stress and Disease Burden Provides an Education”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Al Lewis, Hypertension, Keas, Obesity, productivity, stress, Vik Khanna, Wellness, Workplace, Workplace Wellness
May 2, 2014
Recently, The Health Care Blog published a post by Robert Sutton asking why there were so many jerks in medicine.
That posting made the underlying assumption that being a jerk is a bad thing. In response, we are posting today a defense — really more an explanation of the features and benefits — of jerkdom, at least in our segment of healthcare, wellness and outcomes measurement.
In 1976 an obscure graduate student named Laura Ulrich (now a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor) wrote: “History is seldom made by well-behaved women.” That statement could be applied much more broadly. In any field governed by voluntary consensus – especially where the consensus specifically and financially benefits the people making the consensus – radical change does not happen jerklessly.
The best current example might be the critique of Choosing Wisely in the New England Journal of Medicine in which it was pointed out that only three specialty societies blacklisted controversial procedures still performed in significant enough quantity to affect that specialty’s economics.
(Another example of financially fueled consensus gone awry is the RUC, also frequently and justifiably excoriated in The Health Care Blog and elsewhere.)
Specifically, there are three reasons we act like jerks. (Four reasons if you include selling our book, but we acted like jerks well before our book came out.)
First, as Upton Sinclair said, “You can’t prove something to someone whose salary depends on believing the opposite.” Hence, making nice rarely works and may backfire when you are pointing out a total waste that also happens to be someone else’s income.
After Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC) sponsored an outcomes study by Mercer finding massive savings through their patient-centered medical home (PCMH) in an age cohort (children under one year of age) in which no utilization reduction took place and which, as luck would have it, was not enrolled in the PCMH anyway, we kindly wrote to them and offered to show them the error of their ways, privately.
We didn’t get a response. We repeated the offer when they put out another RFP for even more validation, pointing out that using the HCUP database meant no RFP was needed — we would be able to give them an answer in less time than it would take them to evaluate the RFP responses, and save them close to $500,000 in taxpayer money too.
Continue reading “Why Are Al Lewis and Vik Khanna Such Jerks?”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Al Lewis, Health Risk Assessment (HRA), Outcomes, Vik Khanna, Wellness, workplace wellness programs
Apr 24, 2014
Since 2000, the government and healthcare industry have sold Americans a bill of goods called workplace wellness, which turns out to have been a colossal waste of billions of dollars.
Most of this money was spent bribing employees to do things that they don’t want to do, such as submit to biometrics, answer intrusive health risk appraisals, and get preventive medical care.
The marketing pitch that wellness makes people healthier and lowers medical care costs, and thus, produces a return on investment for the employer, isn’t true. Wellness also allowed companies to position themselves as employee-friendly, even while wages stagnated and employees morphed into fungible widgets, instead of vital assets in whom employers invested for years or decades.
However, it looks to us as though at least one major US company is treating economic reality seriously, and, consequently, asking its employees to act like adults.
Let’s look at wellness by Amazon.com, which has apparently avoided conventional wellness whole cloth. Despite our best research efforts, we find no evidence that the company makes conventional wellness programming a priority for employees.
It’s a bit ironic that they don’t given the recent spate of tough publicity about the company’s employment practices.
Amazon has been lambasted lately for the plight of the warehouse workers who animate its backroom operation, where constant video surveillance, productivity demands, and getting your bag searched before you go home are the norms. Message boards also detail the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the company’s white collar space, which raises, in our minds, the pointed question of why haven’t they done wellness?
We think it’s because Amazon’s philosophy about work is straightforward: if you work here, expectations are high and relentless. Amazon’s approach to employee well-being seems to be to not have one other than we invite you to grow with us. This is counter-cultural, and it has more to recommend it than first appears obvious.
When you are competing against Walmart and Target, remaining lean and low-cost is critical; wellness drives costs up, not down.
Expecting many staff to work 50, 60, or even 70 hours per week leaves little time for discretionary visits to the doctor that are pointless even before they happen because this superfluous care will save neither lives nor money. When you are not pouring money into coercing employees to join a wellness program, you preserve capital needed to optimize the technologies and product mix that help you grab market share and crush competitors like Best Buy.
Continue reading “Amazon Shows the Way on Wellness — Treat People like Adults”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB, The Vault
Tagged: Al Lewis, Amazon, Corporate culture, Drones, Jeff Bezos, Vik Khanna
Apr 16, 2014
T was never a star service tech at the auto dealership where he worked for more than a decade. If you lined up all the techs, he wouldn’t stand out: medium height, late-middle age, pudgy, he was as middle-of-the-pack as a guy could get.
He was exactly the type of employee that his employer’s wellness vendor said was their ideal customer. They could fix him.
A genial sort, T thought nothing of sitting with a “health coach” to have his blood pressure and blood taken, get weighed, and then use the coach’s notebook computer to answer, for the first time in his life, a health risk appraisal.
He found many of the questions oddly personal: how much did he drink, how often did he have (unprotected) sex, did he use sleeping pills or pain relievers, was he depressed, did he have many friends, did he drive faster than the speed limit? But, not wanting to rock the boat, and anxious to the $100/month bonus that came with being in the wellness program, he coughed up this personal information.
The feedback T got, in the form of a letter sent to both his home and his company mailbox, was that he should lose weight, lower his cholesterol and blood pressure, and keep an eye on his blood sugar. Then, came the perfect storm that T never saw developing.
His dealership started cutting employees a month later. In the blink of an eye, a decade of service ended with a “thanks, it’s been nice to know you” letter and a few months of severance.
T found the timing of dismissal to be strangely coincidental with the incentivized disclosure of his health information.
Continue reading “What If Your Employer Gets Access to Your Medical Records?”
Filed Under: THCB, The Vault
Tagged: Al Lewis, data breaches, Employers, personal health records, Privacy, Vik Khanna, Wellness, workplace wellness programs
Mar 25, 2014
We’ve seen shorter abstracts, and we’ve seen abstracts with more curious findings, but we’ve never seen a shorter abstract with more curious findings than this one, done by Dignity Health and Dr. Rajan Merchant, and financed by the California Healthcare Foundation, evaluating a gadget made by Propeller Health.
The study group’s use of inpatient care for asthma declined by a whopping 62% vs. the control group. You might think this result violates Dr. John Ioannidis’ well-known conclusion that large treatment effects are usually wrong, but you’d be mistaken. You see, there was no treatment here.
There was only an effect. Dr. Ioannidis’ result applies only to actual comparisons of effects due to different treatments, not to random changes in effects using the same treatment. In this study, the actual treatment protocol was the same and the inhalers were the same.
The only thing different was frequency of drug use. Whereas the conventional wisdom for disease management states that hospitalizations can be avoided by more adherence and hence more drug use, in this case the study group used less medication than the control group, reaching for their rescue inhalers 25% less– once every 6.3 days vs. every 4.7 days for the control group.
Continue reading “Meet Propeller Health: Digital Health’s Poster Child for Invalid Savings Reporting”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: Al Lewis, Asthma, Asthmaopolis, Control, Propeller Health, Vik Khanna, Wishful Thinking Multiplier
Mar 21, 2014