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What Accolade is doing to advance health equity

January 19, 2022 | 4 min read

By Dr. Shantanu Nundy, chief medical officer

If you’re in the benefits space right now, you know that health equity is a top priority for employers today. While the pandemic has shone a light on gaps in how people of different backgrounds experience the healthcare system, health inequities have been present in our healthcare system for many years, reflecting the larger issues of systemic racism and discrimination that underpin so many of our institutions. These health inequities are among the issues that Accolade as a company has been built to address. Since our founding, we’ve aimed to make healthcare work better for every individual, no matter what community they come from or the health challenges they face.

What does health equity mean?

Before we can address health equity, we must be clear on what it means. While there are numerous ways to define health equity, our preferred one comes from the CDC, which defines health equity as “every person having the opportunity to attain their full health potential, and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”

That’s a goal that our society is not achieving today. Inequities in healthcare abound, driven by social determinants of health, by race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability and geography. Each of these minoritized populations is being inadequately served by our healthcare system right now. That inadequacy is reflected in less access to healthcare, worse experiences, higher rates of disease and disability and lower life expectancies.

That’s unacceptable – and addressable. Accolade’s vision is one of every single person living their healthiest life. And if people have different healthcare experiences based on their sexuality, where they live or the color of their skin, we know that vision won’t be possible.

That’s why the principle of “health equity in all” is part of Accolade's DNA.

What is Accolade doing to advance health equity?

Health equity isn’t a goal that can be achieved by any one company on its own. There are no silver bullets to fix these systemic issues. But that doesn’t mean organizations are powerless to affect change.

At Accolade, health equity informs everything we do as an organization. It shapes how we make up our board of directors and how we staff our care teams. It’s reflected in our engagement model, and it shows up in the results we deliver for our customers.

It’s also deeply rooted in our origins. Accolade began with the idea of giving every person and family a care advocate. That’s an empathetic and relatable person who gets to know the people we serve as individuals and helps address their financial, health literacy and other barriers that get in the way of their care. That can be through helping them schedule appointments, identifying bus routes to care or switching to lower cost prescriptions.

To make sure the people we serve have access to the care they need no matter their background or situation, Accolade’s clinical model emphasizes contextual care.

A personalized approach to health equity

Contextual care means that we understand not just who we’re caring for, but what their life looks like and what barriers to care they are experiencing. Not having a car or needing help with childcare are just a few examples of factors that make it more difficult to access healthcare, but often go unaddressed by traditional providers.

Our personalized approach to healthcare emphasizes building relationships with every person we serve and responding to their needs as an individual – not a case number. Because we understand the challenges each individual faces, we’re better prepared to help them overcome those challenges.

And the approach is working – a study in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety found that Accolade is more than 30% more likely than other providers to identify contextual factors and incorporate those factors into care plans. We’re dedicated to getting better from there with the support of data and our own cutting-edge technology.

Using data to close health equity gaps

To help our people build effective relationships with every member we serve, we use data and machine learning to understand them better. We train our AI models with data forming a 360 view of a patient, so they are as unbiased as possible. For example, our models account for neighborhood-level data like whether an individual lives in a place where there is a shortage of health professionals so we can better understand them even before talking to them.

To achieve health equity, we need a healthcare system that can understand every patient as a whole person, not just a set of symptoms. That’s why we’re working hard to ensure everyone who works at Accolade is an example of that mindset, representing health equity in all we do.

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