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3 Reasons Wellness Programs Fail

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media, June 17, 2013

Participants averaged less than a pound lost in five years. I call that water weight. The report can't seriously conclude that that pace of weight loss demonstrates active participation in a wellness initiative, can it? 

But I understood the low engagement numbers, and the weight loss, better once I learned that employers aren't regularly evaluating their programs based on cost effectiveness.  

Specifically, of those employers implementing weight loss programs, only half had evaluated the effectiveness of their programs formally and only 2% reported actual savings estimates. None had formally evaluated their programs on cost effectiveness, RAND report stated.

How can a wellness program ebb and flow with the specific needs of its workforce if it is not regularly being analyzed and tracked for its effectiveness and ROI? It can't.

2. Inaccurate data

Not bothering to use the data you have is one problem, but having poor data is just as bad.

This week, The New York Times reported on a few of the first comparative studies that evaluate the accuracy of the fitness and activity-tracking devices called "accelerators." These monitors and calorie counters (think Fitbit and Nike + FuelBand) are motivating users to move more by using standing desks and distant parking spaces. But the collection of comparative research on these devices shows they aren't accurately tracking user activities.  

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4 comments on "3 Reasons Wellness Programs Fail"


Thomas Lang (6/19/2013 at 8:20 AM)
Wellness, as a concept is too broadly defined. "Fitness" as well. Here is the formula and the solution for both the data deficiencies and the behavioral change challenges at least with regard to the health benefits of regular exercise. Establish a heart-rate monitored exercise program which involves physician involvement and oversight. Heart-rate monitored exercise solves the data integrity and collection problem. Physician involvement provides for a greater degree of patient compliance and correlation of the reported "exercise" data against other health indicators / vital signs in the medical record. What's the standard [INVALID] the physical activity guidelines posted on the HHS website. We've developed a program which includes an exercise reporting database which allows us to report "quantified" exercise by patients to the physician. Each patient is provided a score which measures their "monitored" exercise over a 30-45 day exercise period against the standards (150 minutes/week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity or a weighted average of the 2). Moderate exercise is 50-70% of maximum heart rate and vigorous exercise is 71% or greater of maximum heart rate. The patients and their physicians who are involved in the program are reporting and documenting in their medical record their "physical activity." As the program is centralized in the primary care physician's office[INVALID]it also provides the nexus to correlate claims data from the insurer. As "health contingent wellness programs" gain traction as an insurance premium offset for "results-driven" healthy behavior, we have the solution.

Ray Mitchell (6/19/2013 at 6:54 AM)
There was no mention of specific products that measure EE. What are the names and model numbers of some reliable foot based activity monitors? I understand that insole pressure monitors are an important part of accurate EE measurement. What are some commercially available insole monitors?

Joe Hodgson (6/18/2013 at 9:43 AM)
Historically, companies and we, as a society,view wellness initiatives, like weight loss, as an individual problem and programs are generally designed from a portrait/bootstrap mentality. Wellness behaviors require a cultural change within an organization. Without fostering a supportive wellness culture among all employees and leaders, results are likely to be less than stellar. Add to the mix the fact that most companies embrace wellness as a way to contain health costs rather than embracing positive lifestyle behaviors and engagement among employees and you have a very mixed message.