Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Link Between Personalized Medicine and Worksite Wellness

Critics look at employee wellness
Only the Disease Management Care Blog can link population health, a JAMA "Viewpoint" article on personalized medicine and a Wall Street Journal editorial on the alleged futility of worksite wellness.

The DMCB explains.

The JAMA article, written by Drs. Goldberger and Buxton, illuminates the cognitive dissonance over guideline-based vs. personalized medicine

The former represents the best care advice for a condition based on a published body of evidence.  Makes sense, but that evidence is typically based on multiple research studies involving populations that are both broad (able to generate statistically significant data) and representative (similar to other patients with the same disease). 

The latter describes tailored medical treatment that is suited to the individual characteristics (and personal preferences) of each patient.  This suggests that within the flow of "populations" that form the basis of a generalized guideline, there are circumstances for some persons that might make a particular treatment of greater or lesser benefit.

While Goldberger and Buxton use a complicated example involving implantable cardioverter defibrillator therapy to illustrate the conundrum, the DMCB has a simpler example.  Current guidelines support yearly mammography in every woman over the age of 50 years. Does that apply for the terminally ill woman in hospice or for a woman who, despite the advice from her physician, decides to forgo the test?

Intellectually reconciling competing policies of guidelines, such as "best practice," "reducing variation," "benchmarks" and "pay-for performance" on one side vs. personalized "informed consent," "patient empowerment" and "clinical judgment" involves subpopulations.  In other words, within any population-based study that shows an intervention is of benefit (mammograms save lives) there are subpopulations where the intervention is of little to no benefit (exceptions to every rule).

Which brings the DMCB to this provocative Wall Street Journal editorial condemning the entire worksite wellness industry. It recycles a number of tiresome criticisms, including outcomes tainted by regression to the mean, over-reliance on process-based outcomes, selection bias, employee discrimination, savings vs. program costs and overdiagnosis.  

Another criticism of the industry is the need for workforce-level (total) savings vs. per-participant savings. Since wellness programs typically focus on subpopulations of employees at greatest risk who are most likely to benefit and willing to participate, the observed savings can be limited to a few patients.  Unless those savings are culled from the large pool of total health insurance claims, they are otherwise invisible and critics will unfairly pounce.

Worksite wellness offers personalized care for limited numbers of patients.  That is its essential value proposition and its curse.  Until we can reconcile the total care via standardized guidelines vs. a more nuanced approach using personal care, it will continue to be criticized.

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