February 19, 2019

Introducing Accolade Connect: A Health Assistant in Every Pocket

By Peggy Fischer

Since joining Accolade's product management team three years ago, my singular focus has been the member experience. I wake up every day thinking about how we can make life easier for people as they try to make their employer-sponsored health plans and benefits work for them. It's a big challenge. It requires thinking differently—putting the evolving needs of each consumer first and delivering a health and benefits solution that fits into their lives.

At Accolade we're celebrating because we believe we've done just that. We've launched Accolade Connect, a new health and benefits solution for employers that makes it simple for employees and their families (“members”) to find all of their benefits in a single spot while putting human help right in their pockets.

If you already know Accolade, you know that we aspire to support every person in this country with a Health Assistant—a health and benefits expert who knows them and the ins and outs of their employer benefits plan. The Health Assistant addresses any health- or benefits-related question— Why was I billed for this test? Is my plan still available next year? Can you help me find a doctor? —and, if a clinical need is identified, brings a nurse or specialist into the discussion.

Accolade has provided personalized advocacy to employers and their people for the past decade, continuously innovating to improve the solution along the way. The results speak for themselves: up to 98 percent member satisfaction, better health outcomes and significantly lower healthcare costs for members and their employers.

But to bring the power of personalized advocacy to more people faster, and to continue meeting people where they are, we had to address a few key realities at the same time:

  • The way consumers prefer to communicate is rapidly changing.
  • The healthcare and benefits landscape continues to change—i.e., worsen—for consumers.
  • Consumer expectations continue to evolve.

It's a different world now than even 10 years ago.



Messaging is the Clear Channel of Choice

The use of messaging applications has skyrocketed, with more than 5 billion people worldwide now using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and similar apps each month.1 Messaging is also rapidly becoming the preferred channel for people seeking health and benefits support, dispelling a few myths.

Myth #1 - People won't use messaging when seeking help for serious personal issues.

There's an assumption that messaging is not the channel people would turn to when seeking help for a serious or sensitive issue or challenge. That's a myth, according to our experience at Accolade as well as external data. Crisis Text Line, a global not-for-profit providing free crisis intervention exclusively via messaging, sees more than 20 percent of their conversations being related to suicide. Crisis Text Line has exchanged nearly 96 million messages in the past five and a half years.2 At Accolade, we've seen that people feel empowered to ask questions and have intense or difficult conversations when an element of privacy is preserved; they don't feel the pressure to say the right thing at the right time on the phone.


Myth #2 - It's too hard to understand tone in messages.

Closely related to myth #1, the second myth says it's too difficult to understand tone or intent in messages; you need to hear a voice to do that. But messaging has strong value in its raw form. Not only is speech recognition technology becoming as accurate as humans3, but messaging in its raw form has value. Crisis Text Line has learned, for instance that emojis are often the strongest indicators of suicidal tendencies. Over time, Accolade's ability to understand meaning in text and symbols will drive an incredible understanding of emotion, intent, and the best path towards strong outcomes.

Myth #3 - Only millennials use messaging; older populations will always prefer phone for assistance.


📷The third myth is that only millennial-aged populations use messaging, but Accolade sees strong digital engagement across all age ranges, which is consistent with external data as well.

Asynchronous messaging offers privacy that phone calls don't - especially in an office environment, as well as the flexibility to multi-task. It's well-suited, for example, for a pregnant woman seeking non-urgent guidance during a day full of meetings. We hear every day that people appreciate being able to send a message before work, get their answer during a break, and continue conversation at the end of the work day.

Accolade Messaging Surpasses Phone Interactions

Since introducing secure messaging just over 18 months ago, Accolade has exchanged nearly 3 million messages with our members, and today more than a third of all member interactions with Accolade Health Assistants and Nurses are happening through mobile and online messaging. With our latest customer launch, messaging has surpassed phone calls as the channel for engagement with our Health Assistants and clinical teams, all with extremely high satisfaction - around 95 percent.

As it was 10 years ago, the most common questions are related to deductibles, co-pays, in-network providers and other benefits-related issues, but members are choosing to engage through secure message rather than phone call - which translates to a 200+ percent growth rate of our messaging interactions.

More than ever we need to support members through their benefits questions, especially as healthcare continues to change and the need to understand the entire journey grows. There is a reason that benefits questions are still by far the most asked category across all of our channels.


Changing Healthcare and Benefits Landscape

High-deductible plans haven't produced the results employers intended. They were supposed to inspire people to make better healthcare decisions, reducing waste and costs. Instead, these plans have only created more stress for people as they watch their deductibles increase year after year and spending on their healthcare grow faster (7 percent4) than any other household expense. High deductibles don't simplify the experience; they shift the burden to the family and add to the complexity. Who's educating members and helping them understand their high deductible? Digital-only benefits engagement hubs can't, and HR teams (never mind one-person HR teams) don't have the capacity. Without human support for deductibles or any other facet of health and benefits, employees face not just the stress of navigating health and benefits but financial stress as well - and that's bad for everyone, including employers.

Consumer Expectations Continue to Evolve

📷A s health and benefits become more fragmented and harder to manage and navigate, almost every other experience - managing travel, enjoying a favorite band on demand, getting a lift anywhere at any time, for instance - has become simple, streamlined and personalized. Yet, half of employees say they can't access their benefits the way they prefer, and nearly half say they don't understand their healthcare benefits.5 More than 80 percent of consumers are dissatisfied with their healthcare experience,6 and they're increasingly demanding more simplicity, personalization and convenience across their health and benefits experience.


Accolade Connect is the Logical, Major Step Forward

We've learned a lot over the past year:

  • People of all ages are rapidly adopting secure messaging as a preferred communications channel - not just for social interactions but to seek help and guidance from advocates and experts.
  • They want a simpler, more personalized health and benefits experience - similar to the consumer experiences they enjoy in other areas of their lives.
  • And, while digital-only engagement hubs consolidate benefits in one place, they will never be able to provide the personalized, compassionate, deep and broad support that members need as they navigate their health and benefits. You need people plus technology.
  • To extend our reach - to bring the power of digital personalized advocacy to more people more rapidly, Accolade had to design, develop and deliver a new type of solution - one that fits seamlessly with an employer's existing health plan and with minimal data sharing requirements.

That solution is Accolade Connect. It delivers a single, simple and unified health and benefits experience for members and HR teams. It meets members where they are - allowing them to message compassionate Health Assistants and Nurses for personalized support in the context of their benefits plan and their unique life context. It's the power of personalized advocacy in every pocket.


1 HubSpot Research (July 2017), retrieved from: https://research.hubspot.com/charts/messaging-apps-have-over-4b-monthly-active-users

2 Crisis Trends, Crisis Text Line, retrieved from: https://crisistrends.org/

3 Li, Abner (June 2017), 9to5Google, Google's speech recognition is now almost as accurate as humans, retrieved from https://9to5google.com/2017/06/01/google-speech-recognition-humans/

4 Meeker, M., (May 2018) Kleiner Perkins, Internet Trends 2018, retrieved from: https://www.kleinerperkins.com/perspectives/internet-trends-report-2018/

5 Stephen Miller, CEBS (August 2017) Health Premiums Expected to Rise 5.5% in 2018, Driving Cost Management Steps from: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/employers-benefits-costs-rise.aspx

6 GE Healthcare and Prophet, The State of Consumer Healthcare: A Study of Patient Experience, retrieved from: https://www.prophet.com/patientexperience/