Monday, November 17, 2008

Time for our annual Health Assessment

OK, since our health plan costs less if I fill out some health assessment, I decided that it made sense to do that. Once I finally found the assessment (not easy, since they gave me the wrong location for it at first), I started noticing some problems right away.

Under my personal information, it asked if I was Latino or not. I can accept that – it's an ethnicity, not a race. But then, the next question did want to know my race, followed by "answer yes or no for each." And the choices were White, "Black or African American," Asian, Pacific Islander, or "Native American or Native Alaskan."

I could easily have marked each one "yes," which seems a little excessive. Most people settle on one or another of those choices and stick with it. Sometimes, like with Tiger Woods, people can’t accept a black man playing golf, so they parse his background a little harder, to show that he’s not a "normal" black man. But, unless you’re fixated on the "one drop" rule of the Old South, most of us stick with a single-word descriptor. I'm white, but I pretty sure that if you go back far enough you'll dig up black and Native American DNA. I don't know of any specific Asian or Pacific Islander DNA, but that's always a possibility. We're mutts. Welcome to America.

Now, I then find that they want to know about my nutritional habits, using the following questions:
• Do you eat at least 2 cups of fruit each day?
• Do you eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables each day?
• Do you eat at least 3 ounces of whole-grain products (cereals, breads, crackers, rice, or pasta) each day? One ounce is about 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of breakfast cereal, or 1/2 cups of cooked rice or pasta.
• Do you consume at least 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, or cheese each day?
• Do you regularly eat foods that are high in cholesterol or fat such as fatty meat, cheese, fried foods, eggs, or baked goods?
Feel free to do that math on your own. I guarantee that I don't eat seven and a half cups of food every day, not to mention the three slices of bread I'd be cramming in on top of it. You'd have to wheel me into work with a forklift. (Oh, by the way, bread qualifies as a "baked good" – I know what they mean, but they needed to think a little harder about that wording.)

We'll skip the questions about my physical activity – I know I'm a slug. But at least I don't smoke.

Then we hit the following question: "In a given week, on how many days do you typically have one or more alcoholic drink? (one drink = one 12 oz beer, 5 oz of wine, one shot of liquor or one mixed drink)"

I have a bad feeling about this. Are they paying attention to the studies that indicate that two glasses of wine per day is good for your heart, or to the Alcoholics Anonymous-type determination that one drink a day makes you an alcoholic? The source of their data needs to be considered, after all.

Which is followed by "In the last 30 days, how often did you use drugs or medicine (including prescription drugs) to affect your mood or to help you relax?"

I think that qualifies under the heading Stupid Questions. Because you have two choices. If somebody is on anti-depressants, they’d need to answer "daily," which is probably a really bad answer. And everybody else will answer "Never". Even if they’re "self-medicating," they’re going to lie anyway - they already got past the drug test, so they aren't going to screw things up now. So what good does that question do? Does it help to throw in questions where you're requiring a percentage of your employees to lie?

Skip a few, and it gets to "During the past 4 weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems? (Never, Seldom, Sometimes, Often, Always)" And the choices include:
• Breathing problems
• Backaches
• Chest pains
• Dizzy spells, tiredness, or fatigue
• Frequent headache
• Joint pain
• Trouble sleeping
• Trouble urinating
On Friday night, when the guys down the street decided to have that party and it spilled out into the street, do I count that as "trouble sleeping?" And you can see where that would lead directly to "tiredness or fatigue," right?

So I decided to self-medicate a little at that point, with about 2.5 ounces of medicinal alcohol. In rum form, if you're curious. Which led to a dizzy spell (and, incidentally, a certain amount of trouble urinating, but I don't think that they want to know about that one – it was more of an aim issue.)

And headaches? Not until I started this quiz.

So how screwed am I by that question?

"In the last year, how many times did you visit a doctor's office or clinic?" was followed by "In the last year, how many times have you gone to the emergency room?" Uhh... "daily?" I work in a freaking hospital!!!

"In the last year, how many times have you stayed overnight in a hospital as a patient?" Finally, "as a patient." Thank you.

"In the last year, how often did doctors or other health providers explain things in a way you could understand?" I'm an admin guy - over the course of a three month period, there are 14 different meetings I go to (between one and three times each, depending on the meeting), and I take the minutes for all of them. Do you know how often I have no idea what the hell it is I'm typing? I just throw the words down on the paper and everybody's happy.

"Has anyone in your family (brother, sister, mother, father, grandparents) ever had heart problems?" My dad graduated West Point, and then spent 24 years in the Army. There's a question whether he actually had a heart. Does that count as a problem?

"On average, how close to the speed limit do you usually drive?" And why is it that they think people are going to admit to breaking a law? Again, why do they insist on throwing in questions that everybody's going to lie about?

"During the past 4 weeks, would you say that you experienced a lot of stress, a moderate amount of stress, or relatively little stress?" Well, are we including this quiz in that answer?

Then we come to one of the worst questions on this thing.
Compared to others like me, my overall risk of developing illness or disease is:
• Much higher
• Higher
• About the same
• Lower
• Much lower
• Don't know/Not sure
Let’s go over that again. First five words: "Compared to others like me."

The answer is "exactly the same!" Every time!! Even if you're an overweight, cancer-riddled, two-pack-a-day smoker, your chances of getting sick are exactly the same as every other overweight, cancer-riddled, two-pack-a-day smoker. Are they just trying to weed out hypochondriacs and people who think they're immortal?

Then they gave me a list of changes where I could improve my health (exercise, quit smoking, all the usual things), and asked "What keeps you from doing more to improve your health?" followed by a list of choices. Unfortunately, "sheer laziness" wasn’t one of the choices. They could have at least given me "Other," to cover things like "I'm a masochist and enjoy the occasional heart attack."

"What is the main reason you want to maintain or increase healthy habits and activities?" Uhh… so I don't have to take tests like this any more?

Then it went back over the choices, and asks "Do you think you’ll be able to make this change?" Am I actually getting nagged by a multiple-choice test? Can I go back and include this in those "how much stress" questions?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find a deep-fried Snickers bar and a shot of vodka.

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