This commentary is in response to a January 16, 2013 Health Affairs Blog post entitled “Is It Time to Re-Examine Workplace Wellness ‘Get Well Quick’ Schemes?” by Al Lewis and Vik Khanna. After the initial blog appeared, my email box was filled with messages asking for a rebuttal to the initial posting, which, to many, seemed like a condemnation of the worksite health promotion (wellness) field and its lack of credibility and honesty in reporting program savings. Instead of just immediately posting a response, I called Al Lewis to discuss the value of worksite health promotion in order to “set the record straight.” It turns out that we agree on many issues but there are also differences.
We agree that there are unscrupulous wellness vendors who claim very large and often implausible savings from worksite health promotion programs. The return-on-investment (ROI) figures bantered about, sometimes as high as 10:1, are not credible. At the same time, I believe it would be wrong to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” In this case, the “baby” refers to well-designed, evidence-based, comprehensive, appropriately resourced, non-gimmick, and well-executed worksite health promotion programs.
Stated positively, good worksite programs deserve credit and should be supported by the business community, not condemned. This is because there is good and growing evidence, reported in a rigorous scientific literature, that “best-practice” worksite health promotion programs improve population health and save money for businesses. Savings are realized from lower health care cost trends, reduced absenteeism, and heightened worker productivity.
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