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IBM Watson to Take On Heart Health

February 1, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The American Heart Association (AHA), IBM Watson and Denver, Colo.-based vendor Welltok are teaming up on the creation of a workplace health solution to improve heart health.

In the first application of Watson to cardiovascular disease, AHA, IBM and Welltok will create a new offering that combines AHA’s science-based metrics and health assessments with cognitive analytics, delivered on Welltok’s health optimization platform. The effort is intended to help alleviate the burden of cardiovascular diseases, which affect more than 85 million Americans today.

The program will help assess both the employer’s workplace health environment, as well as employee health based on AHA metrics. Core to the offering is a new Workplace Health Achievement Index, which AHA also launched on Feb. 1, and is a result of efforts by the AHA’s CEO Roundtable, an organization of some of America’s largest employers dedicated to workplace health. The Index uses best practices to measure and rank corporate health initiatives, assessing companies on their workplace health culture, and in the new offering being developed, Watson will aim to uncover cognitive insights by analyzing data from the Index to provide guidance on how an employer can support employee health.

Using Welltok’s platform online or via mobile, an individual employee could opt to complete AHA’s My Life Check questionnaire, which measures Life’s Simple 7, the key cardiovascular health indicators—not smoking, eating healthy, being physically active, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, managing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, and reducing blood sugar. Welltok leverages consumer insights gained from the questionnaire and data collected via wearable fitness trackers, wireless-enabled scales and blood pressure cuffs to provide personalized recommendations to help the individual make healthy choices that could reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

AHA research has shown that attaining a high Life’s Simple 7 score can help reduce risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and many other health problems. People who reach ideal health for all seven metrics (“ideal cardiovascular health”) by age 50 may have significantly lower lifetime risk of heart disease and stroke, according to officials.  

“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,” Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., chief medical officer for prevention, American Heart Association, said in a statement. “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.”

What’s more, the offering will tap Watson’s natural language processing, deep question and answer capability and similarity analytics, and Watson will be trained on evidence-based heart health goals and measures in order to recommend specific ways employers can create heart healthy environments and engage with their employees, according to IBM officials.

Welltok provides a HIPAA-compliant platform that allows employees to participate in health-related activities while protecting their privacy, officials said. 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.

“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 Kyu Rhee, M.D., chief health officer, IBM Watson Health. “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.”

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