Heart Association, IBM Take On Heart Health in the Workplace

The American Heart Association has a mission: rid the world of heart disease. Now its team is bringing that goal to the office.

The American Heart Association (AHA) announced a new workplace-focused program in conjunction with IBM Watson to carry out its mission of improving heart health.

The Workplace Health Solutions program, featuring the Workplace Health Achievement Index, will assess the heart health of individual employees as well as a company’s overall health culture. The completed assessments will then show organizations and their staff how they can improve.

“It’s brought in an element that not only allows a company to know if it’s doing all the things that will help improve the health of its employees, but also a means by which to measure where their employees are at baseline and where they get to have a success and perhaps figure out that there’s some things that they can do differently or better,” AHA’s Chief Medical Officer for Prevention Eduardo Sanchez, MD, said.

The assessment will be based on employees’ responses to AHA’s My Life Check questionnaire, which measures heart health on key indicators AHA calls “Life’s Simple 7”: not smoking; eating healthy; being physically active; having a healthy weight; and managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Questions focused on company health culture will address leadership in health and wellness, health-related policies, and best practices.

Employees can access the survey online or through the mobile app from Welltok. IBM Watson is then responsible for analyzing the data and providing company assessments, which will make up the index.

“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,” IBM’s Chief Health Officer Kyu Rhee, MD, said in a statement.

It’s a win from the health perspective; it’s also a win from the economics perspective.

With heart disease causing 17 million deaths per year, AHA wants to create awareness by reaching people where they’ll be most affected. A 2014 study from AHA and Nielsen concluded that individuals are twice as likely to report improved health when encouraged my company leaders to engage in health programs, and more than two-thirds said such programs increase job satisfaction.

“Context matters, and for 150 million working adults, context is the workplace,” Sanchez said. “And so the workplace, we have thought, might be the place … to make it easier for individuals to achieve ideal status.”

Sanchez also noted that “a healthy workforce is a productive workforce,” in that keeping employees healthy also improves a company’s performance. “Companies that are performing well on some of the other workplace health indices out there are performing better in the marketplace. That is, Wall Street performance is better in companies that are healthy,” he said. “It’s a win from the health perspective; it’s also a win from the economics perspective.”

AHA hopes to launch the program at each of the 26 companies represented in AHA’s CEO Roundtable, who all helped develop and test the index and includes IBM. From there, the association will progressively spread the program to other companies.

“We have an audience now and actually have the means by which to say, ‘Here’s some ways you can improve heart health in the workplace, and here’s how one might go about it,’” Sanchez said.

An early version of IBM's Watson computing system, which will help power the AHA program. (Clockready/Wikimedia Commons)

Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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