The Danger of Wellness Programs: Don’t Become the Next Penn State

Source: Tom Emerick and Al Lewis, Harvard Business Review Blog Network, August 20, 2013

…This whole slow-motion debacle would have been completely avoidable at many points in the last week or two… if only Penn State’s administration had had access to a search engine and a calculator.

The search engine would have told it that even the major academic proponents of conventional wellness programs don’t think they save money, that vendors make up savings numbers, that the screens they insisted upon can’t even theoretically save money and a whole body of research opposes them, and that all the extra preventive doctor visits they required were useless. (The search engine also would have told the school’s administrators that this scheme was highly unpopular among their employees.)

The calculator would have told them that their 43,000 covered lives probably incurred a total of only about 100 wellness-sensitive medical inpatient events, like heart attacks, of which a few might have taken place in people who were not previously diagnosed and were therefore at least theoretically avoidable, saving the tiniest fraction of their healthcare spending. …