Artificial Intelligence, Real Hearts

In a new partnership with IBM Watson Health, the American Heart Association is poised to revolutionize the way companies use analytics to help workers improve their cardiovascular health.

By Jill Cueni-Cohen

Cardiovascular diseases currently affect more than 85 million Americans, accounting for 1 in 3 deaths and more than $312.6 billion in annual health spending and lost productivity. Thanks to the American Heart Association, IBM Watson Health and Welltok Inc., there will soon be an app for that.

Earlier this month, AHA announced plans to combine its own science-based metrics and ongoing health assessments with IBM Watson's cognitive computing power to develop a unique workplace health solution that will shed new light on ways to improve workers' health. Putting access to this information in the hands of individuals is Welltok's health optimization platform, which is developing an app designed to elicit a wealth of information regarding the prevention of cardiovascular diseases by studying workers' daily health habits.

"Poor diet, lack of regular physical activity and other major risk factors for heart disease and stroke are responsible for at least 25 percent of employers' healthcare costs," says AHA's Chief Medical Officer for Prevention, Eduardo Sanchez, from its national headquarters in Dallas. "The evidence is compelling that ideal cardio health equals good health, and the AHA has embraced Life's Simple 7 as the framework that will be used to define cardio health at a broad level."

Life's Simple 7 is a scientifically-based blueprint for healthy living and corporate well-being focused on not smoking; eating healthy; being physically active; having a healthy weight; and managing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Along with the Workplace Health Achievement Index, the program offers a personalized, cognitive solution designed to help improve heart health while lowering healthcare costs and encouraging continuous, measurable improvements in workers' cardio fitness.

Research by AHA and Nielsen finds that when senior leadership encourages employees' participation in workplace health programs, they're much more likely to adopt healthy habits. The AHA put together a CEO Roundtable consisting of 26 CEOs from some of America's largest corporations and organizations, including Dow Chemical, CVS Health, Kaiser Permanente, Johnson & Johnson and Morgan Stanley, just to name a few. "Going into the workplace and setting up a partnership with content platform analytics is something new in the marketplace," says Sanchez. "We at AHA believe the value proposition here is not just the fact that improving health is good for the bottom line, but analysis shows that employees who feel like their corporate leadership is interested in their health feel better about themselves and show more allegiance to their employers."

This new application of cognitive computing is designed to translate "big data into big insights so that the right people get the right information at the right time to make the right health decisions," says Kyu Rhee, the chief health officer of IBM Watson Health at its New York headquarters. "The CEOs made this commitment that it's the right thing to do to have a healthy, productive high performing workforce."

There is no cost to implement the workforce health achievement index, says Rhee, adding that the offering is currently in development and will be introduced to the market in the second half of 2016.

The United States spends more on healthcare than any other country, says Rhee, "yet we are not a healthy nation, and prevention is the key to changing this dynamic. The CEO Roundtable is dedicated to creating a workplace culture in which healthy choices are the default choices. 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."

Wellness expert Anja Weinberg of Thrive from Home, located in Wilton Manors, Fla., says the Workplace Health Achievement Index has great potential to provide a powerful tool in the fight against cardiovascular disease, but she questions the long-term effectiveness of yet another tech trend.  "It sounds kind of great and it sounds kind of scary at the same time," she says, noting that not all workers are comfortable with wearable technology and having their health habits be continuously monitored. "Older generations are taking tech a little more cautiously."

Maneesh Goyal, the senior vice president of corporate development and strategic integration at Orange County, Calif.-based Welltok Inc., says its platform is HIPAA-compliant and will protect employees' privacy. "Data from the Workplace Health Achievement Index and the application for Life's Simple 7 will be de-identified and stored in the Watson Health Cloud," he says, noting that they'll be studying anonymous, aggregate data.

The Welltok app, he says, is designed to work with existing healthcare technology platforms -- from benefits information to mobile and on-line diet and exercise diaries to doctor appointments and health statistics -- and consolidate them into one easy-to-access, cloud-based solution. "The app will provide aggregated insights, and employers will typically see the impact when they enact this program and the health of their workforce improves significantly," says Goyal.

Weinberg agrees that technology has improved life greatly, but she contends that it also intrudes on reality. "My concern is that we're getting further away from really connecting with one another and might be more concerned with feeding the data to the app rather than taking the steps to walk the extra mile or taking the time to meditate. Focusing on technology could be taking away from the time we could be using in making ourselves well."

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Feb 29, 2016
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