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Q&A Kristen Weeks Trusted Partner Ecosystem

Revolutionizing employee benefits with Accolade's Partner Ecosystem

An interview with senior vice president Kristen Keating Weeks

By Accolade | September 08, 2023 | 7 min read

We spoke with Kristen Keating Weeks, senior vice president of strategy, corporate development, and partnerships, to delve into her journey at Accolade and explore the workings of Accolade's Trusted Partner Ecosystem (TPE) – the first in the industry to bring together multiple point solutions through a single front door for employers.

Accolade’s TPE launched in 2019 and has grown substantially to include 15 partners across 11 categories and counting, including musculoskeletal, diabetes, pharmacy, behavioral health, and fertility. Under Kristen's leadership, Accolade has deepened its integration with these partners to further support incremental, appropriate utilization. Read on to learn from Kristen as she shares insights about the company's mission-driven ethos, the creation of our TPE, and its future.

Why did you join Accolade?

I joined Accolade nearly seven years ago and found my way here serendipitously. My husband and I were living in Brooklyn and had decided to relocate to the Philadelphia area to be closer to family as we raised our kids. I met up with a former colleague for coffee and told him I was relocating and thinking through job options. At the time, I was working at a mission-driven education technology company in NYC. He happened to have learned about Accolade the week prior during a meeting in Seattle and recalled that the company's co-headquarters was in Philadelphia. I remember him saying, "You will love what they do. It’s just unequivocally good."

When I dug in and did some research, I fell in love with Accolade. I was totally energized at the thought of being able to do something professionally that was unequivocally good. I admired the model's simplicity – be a kind, patient resource for families in their moments of need, and good things will follow. Also, my mom and two of my sisters are nurses. I’ve always appreciated how each time they interact with a patient, they have the chance to make someone healthier and happier – being a part of Accolade seemed to offer the opportunity to contribute to, as Dr. Shantanu Nundy, Accolade’s chief health officer, often says, “direct impact at scale.”

What is Accolade’s Trusted Partner Ecosystem and how did it come about?

Accolade’s TPE helps to simplify benefits and drive a more integrated experience for members. When we established it in 2019, we were primarily responding to two pain points we kept hearing from our customers:

1. The proliferation of digital health point solutions (while a good thing in terms of innovation coming to market) overwhelmed them. Who should they take meetings with? Were the claims the companies were making about healthcare outcomes and cost savings accurate? Would the solutions integrate well with Accolade? Even if they were landing on programs of interest, cumbersome procurement and implementation processes were taxing their teams.

2. If they had gotten to the point of deploying a new point solution, it was almost always under-utilized. They had put all this effort into offering a fantastic benefit to their employee population. Still, their members weren't using it to the extent they should or were not aware it even existed.

Accolade recognized that we are incredibly well-positioned to address these pain points for our customers. By vetting solutions, creating efficiencies in contracting and implementation, and activating a set of integrated features with these partners, we can make it easier for customers to stand them up and help encourage incremental, appropriate utilization through our referrals. We're choosing partners who are like-minded and committed to quality – ultimately, the TPE has become a way for us to bring innovation to our customers and members that they might not have otherwise been able to access.

What criteria does your team use to vet the partners you chose?

We focus on categories that matter to our customers because spending is high (think: musculoskeletal, diabetes, gastrointestinal) and/or having benefits associated with them is viewed favorably in terms of employee attraction, retention, and engagement (think: fertility, LGBTQIA+ support). Accolade believes its Trusted Partners deliver services complementary to its own that add measurable value to customers and members, and we vouch for them accordingly.

We vet our Trusted Partners along four key dimensions:

  • Clinical – Is there alignment between their clinical philosophy and our own? Do we believe in the rigor of their model and the veracity of their outcomes data?

  • Data Security – Do they have the proper protocols (and associated certifications) that give us confidence they’ll treat member and customer data as we do?

  • Financial – Is the business financially healthy? Do its balance sheet and unit economics give us confidence it will be around for the long haul?

  • Operational – Can the business today meet the needs of any of Accolade’s customers (e.g., a national employer with a large workforce, or one deeply concentrated in a particular region)? If not, how quickly and reliably could the business scale?

In addition, we ask our Trusted Partners to commit resources to ongoing integration work with us to support a seamless member experience and data unity for our customers. We recognize that to do this well, collaboration must happen between product, engineering, operational, and clinical teams, and we want to ensure the Partners will come to the table ready to work. We hold them accountable.

What makes Accolade’s Trusted Partner Ecosystem unique today?

Increasingly, others in the industry acknowledge the pain points I mentioned and are establishing their own ecosystems. The feedback we’ve received from some of our Trusted Partners who participate in these other ecosystems is that they are primarily focused on the first pain point (the procurement challenge) and less on how to leverage an engagement model to drive incremental, appropriate utilization. This is where Accolade has set itself apart.

We’re looking at all the various ways we’re engaging with our members – through calls, messages, portal use, and with our care advocates, nurses, physicians, expert specialists, pharmacists, and behavioral health team – and thinking about how we can maximize the opportunity we have in each of those interactions to educate members on the great resources their employers have made available to them.

For example, consider a member told they needed knee surgery by their treating physician and guided by our care team to get a second opinion through our Accolade Expert MD service. Say the expert specialist explains their recommendation for a more conservative approach with cortisone injections and physical therapy. What a fantastic opportunity to then be able to educate the members on their access to our virtual physical therapy Trusted Partners (Sword Health or Hinge Health). Alternatively, the expert might affirm that surgery is indeed necessary. Here, we’re uniquely positioned after this intensive consultation where we’ve established credibility with the member to educate them on our surgical centers of excellence Trusted Partners (Employer Direct Healthcare or Carrum Health) if their employer has made these benefits available. Imagine similar scenarios where a member who receives primary care through Accolade Care learns about Virta for their diabetes or Vivante for their gastrointestinal issue.

Accolade has a uniquely powerful set of capabilities across advocacy, primary care, and expert medical opinion that, together, afford us such rich interactions with our members. We have the engagement and build trust – bringing our Trusted Partners’ high-quality interventions directly to our members in these moments makes them more accessible and, by extension, the outcomes they can offer more likely to be achieved.

What’s ahead for Accolade’s TPE?

Our roadmap is shaped by several key inputs. We consider our customers' feedback, focusing on their interests and needs. Our care teams offer valuable advice, identifying where expanding our service model could enhance member value. Our actuaries help us pinpoint areas of rising costs that could be controlled with timely interventions. Additionally, we keep an eye on the digital health landscape to spot innovative trends that could be made more accessible to our customers and members.

We’re thoughtful about whom we work with — our goal is quality over quantity. We know the work required to deliver a vision of integrated, collaborative care with our partners, so we’re selective about who we work with and how we plan for the work we’ll do with them.

Regarding our integrated features roadmap, we’re always considering additional connectivity points with our partners. Our north star is to make it easy and delightful for our members and their families to get the care they need by engaging them with the right benefits and programs.

To learn more and find out if Accolade’s ecosystem and partner solutions are a good fit for your organization, contact [email protected].

As Accolade’s senior vice president of strategy, corporate development, and partnerships, Kristen Keating Weeks leads the team responsible for identifying third-party organizations that would be compelling partners or acquisitions because their solutions are complementary to Accolade’s own and could deliver additional value to Accolade’s members and customers.

Prior to Accolade, Kristen was the director of business development at educational technology company Knewton, Inc.; a consultant at The Boston Consulting Group; an account executive at Google; and a child advocate for a domestic violence and sexual assault program in New Orleans.

Kristen graduated with an MBA from Columbia Business School, where she was a Feldberg Fellow and member of the Social Enterprise Program. She holds an AB with honors in history and literature from Harvard College.

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