Tapping Cognitive to Build a Culture of Heart Health in the Workplace

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The U.S. spends more on health care than any other country, yet we are far from achieving optimal health across our population. Prevention is critical to changing this dynamic, particularly by addressing risk factors for chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases and stroke, and American employers can play a crucial role in achieving this.

This focus on prevention is the reason why 26 CEOs from some of America’s largest corporations have joined me to form the American Heart Association (AHA) CEO Roundtable, dedicated to creating a workplace culture of health. Fueled by the science and mission of the AHA, these CEOs are taking bold action to help create scalable solutions for companies across the country to improve health, and mobile technology is a fundamental aspect of our strategy for success.

Based on our research, there are many opportunities to help people improve health by engaging them where they work. Recently, the AHA commissioned Nielsen to conduct a survey with a representative sample of 2,000 adults employed part or full time. We did this to better understand employee perceptions about their health and behaviors, to assess the potential impact of an initiative to improve workforce health, and to establish benchmarks to measure progress over time.

This research revealed three discoveries that demonstrate why this effort is so critical.

  • First, that employees overestimate their own health. This is consistent with what we’ve seen in previous American Heart Association analyses. Individuals think they’re a lot healthier than they actually are, and this puts them at greater risk for heart disease and other serious illness.
  • Second, leadership and culture matter when it comes to the success of workplace health programs. The entire organization has a role to play, but encouragement from senior management is of particular importance.
  • And third, this research validates that workplace health programs positively impact employee health and workplace outcomes, making them a true win-win for individuals and employers.

With the help of our CEO Roundtable member companies, which combined represent nearly 8 million people, we’re piloting evidence-based interventions aimed to increase our knowledge of what works best in workplace health. We know that it is imperative to harness the power of big data and technology to help drive effective solutions.

And certainly the role of mobile technology is critical because if we are going to support day-to-day health and well-being, we need to reach people when and where it works for them, not just when they step into a doctors’ office. And the power of mHealth goes far beyond prevention. For example, it is helping hospitals improve quality of care by speeding up their capacity to collect and analyze patient data and also support treatment decision-making. It’s making remote care possible through telemedicine, with doctors able to diagnose and assess symptoms for stroke and other acute events from miles away once patients and their families leave the hospital, creating a connected health experience.

At the American Heart Association, we applaud the “disruption” that technology has caused in health care, because ultimately we believe it will help to improve outcomes and save lives. The best news is that we’re still in the beginning stages of where we can go to reshape health.

We are on the brink of transformative developments and the AHA, IBM Watson Health, and Welltok collaboration is an exceptional opportunity to create evidence-informed tools that combine AHA’s science-based metrics and health assessments with IBM’s cognitive analytics. The information will be used to provide personalized coaching for individuals to help make heart healthy choices and recommend ways to create heart healthy environments for employers based on their needs.

Through the AHA CEO Roundtable, our goal is to scale these solutions that include rigorous corporate recognition criteria in the form of our new Workplace Health Achievement Index that drives adherence to best practices for health improvement. Not only does the Index score and rank companies both on best practices and employee heart health, but it will generate data, insights and cognitive learning to provide guidance on how the employer can support employee health.

Ultimately, improving the health of our nation’s 155 million working adults can help save and improve countless lives. Each progression forward helps people achieve a healthier quality of life, and that’s a goal well worth striving for.

CEO, American Heart Association

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