For the past nine years, I have been involved in building a company, Accolade, dedicated to experiencing the health care journey through the eyes of each unique individual and family who are in need. Starting with a one room office, and a small team led by Tom Spann, our CEO, we spent years finding solutions to the problems inherent in experiencing illness in an attempt to make that journey as simple, and as stress free as humanly possible – all that with the knowledge that there is no more stressful time than when you or a family member is ill. In addition to medical and insurance knowledge, we brought into the equation information on decision science, the psychology of persuasion and behavioral economics and created a coherent set of processes that we could manage while making it seem to the people we helped as if it were effortless. We created simplicity during extremely complex and emotional times for people. This took immense work and creativity as there is no more difficult task than creating simplicity out of the chaos that is often experienced when ill. It meant rethinking how to engage people and how to create the type of trust that allows the right type of help to be offered and to be accepted. It meant understanding a person’s need for autonomy and to be seen as unique rather than as a disease or a demographic. It meant understanding that the experience of being sick is more than biology and insurance benefits but is also emotional, social, financial and even spiritual. It is intensely personal for each person affected and our methods and procedures had to find commonalities while recognizing the segment of one that each person is.
Ultimately we created a new profession – the profession of Health Assistant and the internal mechanisms to support that profession. The Health Assistant has to be an expert problem solver, a relationship builder and to be conversant in the language of medicine, finance, social work and insurance benefits. He or she has to be team oriented in order to pull in their expert colleagues, whether nurses, doctors, psychologists, pharmacists, social workers, insurance experts or even attorneys when needed for a particular issue. The communication links and the information have to be at each Health Assistant’s fingertips in real time in order to keep it simple, real and humanistic. It can’t be scripted or too rote but it must be performed with a certain rigor that is behavioral and scientifically based and consistent across health assistants. It must follow process but not be a slave to process.
We started out with the belief that this service would not only help and delight people, but it would save money in aggregate. Taking the fear out of so many decisions that drive people to ask for unnecessary tests and services and helping influence people towards the right care seemed to us to have the potential to save money while doing the right thing for those in need. We proved that to be true as well. Time and again, when we studied populations with pilot populations versus control populations, keeping everything else the same, savings were documented that exceeded even our initial hopes. There were even indications of improved quality of care from decreased readmissions, increased medication compliance and increased use of preventive care. At one point, one of our esteemed Board of Directors said, “You guys have discovered penicillin!”
Those types of results do bring growth. Accolade is now a company of over 700 people with three offices around the country and continues to grow. A new CEO has been named and a new team is being put in place to bring Accolade to the next level of growth. As such, I am taking my leave but remaining as a shareholder, an advisor and a supporter.