IBM Watson, AHA and Welltok to develop workplace heart health program

The American Heart Association, IBM Watson Health ($IBM) and wearable data player Welltok have teamed up to develop a solution to help America's largest employers advance workplace health. This will be the first application of Watson's supercomputing powers to cardiovascular health.

The idea is to create an overarching program that enables employers to assess the relative heart-healthiness of their workplace environment via a new Workplace Health Achievement Index from AHA; to analyze data using Watson from a specific employer to develop tailored health benefits and programs; and to use Welltok's health optimization app to encourage individual employees to achieve health goals.

"The new era of cognitive computing has the potential to help transform personal health and well-being, and that's why we are eager to see this offering in action to support the health and wellness of the workforce," said IBM Watson Health Chief Health Officer Kyu Rhee in a statement. "This is the first time Watson is taking on heart health, and we look forward to working with more members of the AHA CEO Roundtable who serve as models for best in class corporate heart health initiatives."

IBM has already committed to using the resulting program as part of its own corporate wellness strategy. Its Watson will offer natural language processing, deep question and answer capability and similarity analytics based on evidence-based heart health goals to help provide employers specific recommendations on how to provide heart healthy work environments.

Heart disease accounts for one in three deaths globally and is estimated to result in more than $300 billion annually in health spending and lost worker productivity. The partners expect that through addressing dietary and physical activity improvements as well as other major risk factors, employers could reduce their costs by an estimated 25%.

It will incorporate AHA's My Life Check questionnaire that's intended to measure an individual employee's key cardiovascular health behaviors, dubbed Life's Simple 7. These are not smoking, eating healthy, being physically active, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, managing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, and reducing blood sugar. If ideal levels are reached on all 7 of these metrics by an individual who is age 50, they "may have significantly lower lifetime risk of heart disease and stroke."

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez using Welltok's health optimization app--Courtesy of IBM

"With Life's Simple 7 and the Workplace Health Achievement Index, we've presented a science-based blueprint for healthy living and corporate well-being," said Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, Chief Medical Officer for Prevention at the American Heart Association. "With this program, individuals and their employers will be able to benefit from a personalized, cognitive solution designed to help improve heart health and reduce healthcare costs. Our hope is that we can set a new standard for continuous quality improvement in workplace health."

For its part, Welltok will offer individual employees the health surveys via online or mobile routes. The wearables provider offers a HIPAA-compliant platform that's designed to protect employee privacy while they participate in health-related programs. It will be used to collect and deidentify individual employee data from the health survey in the Watson Health Cloud. Welltok incorporates questionnaire data with data from wearable fitness trackers as well as wireless devices such as scales and blood pressure cuffs.

"By putting this innovative program in the hands of consumers, we are guiding them at a personal level to maintain, and even improve their health status," said Welltok chairman and CEO Jeff Margolis. "We look forward to working with IBM and AHA, as well as the nation's largest employers, to optimize the health of employees across the U.S. and proactively address the human and financial toll of heart disease."

- here is the announcement

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