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Workplace Wellness Programs: Do they Work?

The American Medical Association (AMA) released the results of a study conducted from January, 2015 through August, 2016 that evaluated 160 work sites and over 32,000 employees throughout the U.S. that had implemented a formalized Wellness Program. The results presented some surprising outcomes that don’t support the claims the vendors of these programs often make. In short, they aren’t nearly as effective at improving the overall health of a workforce, or reducing the medical and prescription costs for the employer, as is often advertised.

The study, released in the April 16, 2019 issue of JAMA, found that although work sites with wellness programs did show success in “some positive health behaviors compared with those who were not exposed,” there were no “significant outcomes” when it came to clinical measures of health, spending, or utilization over the time period evaluated. Most employers are looking for the “bang for their buck” scenario when investing in a wellness program – they expect an overall reduction in utilization and cost of employee medical and prescription services. Based on the results of this study they’re benefiting from employee education and self-awareness, but not quantitative results in overall health improvement.

Having read the complete study, and also a review of external analysis of the document, we can say the results were reached utilizing a thorough scientific process. They took special care to establish a control group to compare the results to and chose a large employer with multiple work sites and a demographically stratified sample of employees. We find it hard to argue with the results of this study.

Of course, wellness program vendors will argue that their program is a more effective tool, or different companies have different cultural aspects that would lend toward better health outcomes. And, they may have a point. It’s up to employers to hold their vendors, and prospective vendors, feet to the fire and demand guaranteed results or a return on their investment.

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