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The Wellness Controversy Uncovered

Whether you call it wellness, population health management, health risk mitigation or health enhancement, the number one controversy in our industry is whether wellness works and whether employers should even be engaged in trying to improve the health of their workforce.

As a physician who has had a personal vision statement to help individuals improve their health and wellbeing, for over 40 years, I have my own perspective on this topic. I believe health and wellbeing are admirable goals to strive for, whether you are an individual or an organization, but like most goals worth achieving, this is a journey and not an easy one.

I was fairly unsuccessful as a clinician getting people to lose weight, eat less, exercise more, de-stress, avoid substance abuse and find balance and peace in their lives. It hasn't been any easier getting employers to create environments that support these healthy behaviors'. Both patients and organizations want a silver bullet, a quick fix, a magic solution or formula for success that will guarantee a healthier, happier (and less costly) future.

The reason many are questioning whether employers should be adopting a strategy of health is that, like most individuals, there is a long learning curve how to do this correctly. Consequently, there are a lot of early failures, a lot of stops and starts and a lot of money, time and resources wasted before people get it right.

Most smokers try to quit 9 times before they are successful. How many times have you tried to lose weight and failed? It is often the same with organizational efforts at health improvement. Plus, our industry, the consulting industry, has often led clients down the wrong path giving them the solution/vendor program of the week as we traveled our own journey on what works and what doesn't. Good consulting has a learning curve also. Giving good advice is often based on experience and experience takes time and, unfortunately, many failures.

The question is not whether Health Risk Assessments are worth doing or whether biometrics provides a Return on Investment. These are, unfortunately for most organizations, beginning steps they have to go through to advance to more worthwhile strategies.

Few of my colleagues enjoyed organic chemistry, but you had to master it to understand physiology and how the body works. Most employers can't jump into effective culture changing health improvement strategies without going through the preliminary steps associated with many wellness programs i.e. HRA's, biometrics, life-style coaching, wellness challenges and activities, wellness committees, setting healthy program goals and objectives, getting upper leadership buy-in, incentive programs, etc. It is part of the process, part of the journey, a journey that if undertaken will hopefully lead to a healthy, happier, more productive workforce that wants to come to work-because work is fulfilling and makes life more enjoyable. That is the end game.

From the desk of : Dr. David Rearick, Chief Medical Officer, MMA Mid-Atlantic 

Posted September 30, 2014

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