IBM, Welltok Partner on Employee Health Management

Using a Watson-powered app, IBM and Welltok have teamed up to transform benefit and health management for employees.

Healthcare IT

Welltok, a provider of a consumer enterprise platform for the health care industry, announced it has successfully rolled out a Watson-powered version of its CafeWell Health Optimization Platform to IBM employees.

The move will help Big Blue tap the fruits of its homegrown cognitive computing technology to help revolutionize how the company manages health resources and engages employees.

With health care open enrollment efforts in process right now, IBM employees can benefit from the CafeWell platform, which organizes IBM's 36 disparate partners, including five health insurance carriers, flexible spending accounts and retirement programs. Employees are able to access a single, engaging and user-friendly experience that provides personalized insights and on-demand guidance on health and wellness via the Web, smartphones and soon the Apple Watch.

"IBM has truly partnered with us to innovate and leverage the power of our Health Optimization Platform for its broader needs," said Jeff Margolis, chairman and CEO of Welltok, in a statement. "Together, we are moving the needle on employee health by improving program and resource visibility and access, delivering a unified and engaging consumer experience, and rewarding employees for optimizing multiple dimensions of their lives."

As a charter IBM Watson Ecosystem partner, Welltok was one of the first to use Watson APIs to develop a cognitive application. Welltok was also the first recipient of a direct venture investment from IBM Watson Group, made through its $100 million fund to seed Watson innovations.

By combining CafeWell with Watson's ability to understand natural language and learn with each interaction, the CafeWell Concierge app becomes knowledgeable about a user's health status, available benefits, preferences and behaviors, and can then deliver highly personalized and actionable recommendations.

The app integrates information from an individual's self-selected benefits plan with personalized health data, such as from a wearable fitness tracker. This would include things like preferred foods, steps taken or hours slept in a day.

Further, it can understand complex questions in natural language and provide relevant responses on a wide range of health and wellness topics such as health coverage, healthy living, condition management and more. Using text or voice functionality, it intelligently answers questions such as:

· How long can I stay in the hospital post-partum?

· Where can I get a low cholesterol meal?

· When is the next weight management coaching session?

"The future of health and wellness is all about the individual, and Watson has the potential to help deliver on the promise of personalized health," said Kyu Rhee, IBM's chief health officer, in a statement. "IBM and other large employers now have the opportunity to use cognitive computing to enable employees to make decisions that could help improve the health and wellbeing of their workforce. We are continuing our long-standing commitment to employee health and wellness innovation by providing a Watson-based cognitive app to our employees."

The CafeWell platform was first introduced to IBM employees in the spring of 2015 as a personalized, interactive destination to self-navigate resources, get rewarded for healthy behaviors and obtain support managing health conditions. When provided access to the platform, IBM employees increased their use of company-sponsored health and wellness programs, demonstrating action to optimize their health, IBM officials said.

Welltok and IBM are also co-developing the first cognitive health and wellness app for the Apple Watch. The app, which is expected to be available early next year, will encourage a dialogue about health with the user and prompt important behaviors, such as taking medicine, becoming more active, or staying connected to family and friends.

Welltok has been active of late. Last month, the company announced its acquisition of Zamzee, a health program developed by HopeLab, to add more solutions for children to the Welltok CaféWell Health Optimization Platform and further engage millions of children and their families in healthy activities. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

HopeLab, a philanthropic research and development organization, developed Zamzee to help boost physical activity in kids and families. While many blame technology for a rise in sedentary behavior, HopeLab tapped into the power and appeal of digital products to engage and motivate kids to be more active. A video of a Zamzee-based healthy family success story can be found here.

The Zamzee program uses gamification, rewards and behavior change science to get kids moving more. It encourages activity for kids through play, engaging them with customizable avatars, an activity tracker and challenges. Zamzee has a track record of success, increasing physical activity in kids by nearly 60 percent. It has also demonstrated that motivating kids to improve health behaviors can have a positive impact on the entire family. Parents often join in and are motivated to change health behaviors as well, Welltok said.

"Zamzee will be an essential component of CaféWell since it gets the whole family involved in their health," Margolis said at the time of the acquisition. "Health optimization is achievable at every age, and engaging in healthy behaviors in adolescence is proven to have great impact on bending the curve over the long term and creating healthier, happier populations."