September 28 2021

Accolade Care: True virtual primary and mental health care

By Dr. Shantanu Nundy, chief medical officer, Accolade

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At Accolade, we believe everyone deserves access to excellent primary and mental health care. That’s why we’ve launched  Accolade Care  

Leveraging the primary care model at PlushCare, Accolade Care is a solution that makes it easy for your people and their families to get the support they need. We look at physical health and mental wellness from a holistic perspective to obtain optimal outcomes.  

With Accolade Care, we also want to uphold the four pillars we see as necessary in delivering quality primary care: First contact, continuity, comprehensiveness, and coordination.  

In the U.S., only about one-third of Americans have a relationship with a primary physician, which contributes to a lack of having a  first point of contact  for any health need. Our virtual primary care option is one way we can contribute to providing consistent and ongoing access to a primary care physician. But we don’t stop at virtual-only solutions — we bolster this by helping people schedule in-person visits when they need them to deliver the most rounded primary care solution.  

Continuity  is building a long-term relationship with a primary provider;  comprehensive care  encompasses every aspect of a person’s well-being — the entire spectrum of care, inclusive of preventive or chronic care and a person’s mental health.  Coordinated care  means that a primary care physician accompanies a person throughout their entire healthcare journey.  

To solve for the shortcomings we see in the current healthcare system, Accolade Care offers an innovative approach to virtual primary and mental health care. Our providers create long-lasting relationships with their patients, supplementing in-person visits and breaking down silos that segment care delivery between physical health and mental wellness.  

Let’s look at what has fueled this demand for virtual care, how  Accolade Care is not simply another telemedicine model  and why we think a holistic approach to a person’s health is imperative. 

How the impact of COVID-19 boosted demand for virtual care

The pandemic highlighted the existing challenges in our healthcare system, including access to care. I saw this firsthand. As a primary physician at a clinic in Washington, D.C., when COVID was running rampant throughout the country, it didn’t take long to realize that people were putting off primary care and suffering from a host of mental health issues.  

These statistics [1] clearly illustrate the impact the pandemic had on people: 

  • 4 in 10 U.S. adults reported that they avoided medical care because of COVID-19. 

  • 12% of people avoided urgent or emergency care. 

  • 32% avoided routine care. 

  • 31% suffered from anxiety and depression symptoms. 

  • 26% had trauma-related symptoms. 

  • 13% uptick in substance abuse. 

  • 11% seriously contemplated suicide. 

Making it more difficult, medical resources, including mental health support were re-allocated to address the pandemic. This meant that a lot of people who wanted care simply had to wait until their provider or specialist was available.  

To solve for this, within weeks my clinic pivoted from being primarily in-person to 80% virtual. When an under-resourced clinic like mine demonstrated it could shift its care offerings due to emergent — and urgent — issues, it became clear to me that we could deliver a vast amount of care virtually and embed this approach into the existing healthcare system.  

We knew this approach could work because  we saw people seeking virtual care in record numbers.  Nationally, 46% of U.S. consumers used telehealth in the first months of 2020, up from 11% in 2019.[2] What’s also telling is that these virtual visits weren’t only requests for COVID tests or urgent issues, but for primary and mental health care or specialties like physical therapy. 

More than telehealth

It’s important to understand that Accolade Care is not just another telehealth solution. We didn’t want to be hamstrung with telehealth’s current limitations. Traditional telemedicine focuses on urgent or episodic health moments. It also tends to follow the fee-for-service model, which doesn’t build long-term relationships between providers and patients. We know these types of relationships are essential to benefit people’s well-being for the long term and made them a key component of Accolade Care.  

Accolade Care takes a longitudinal approach.  Our providers accompany people on their entire healthcare journey and work to establish long-term relationships with them. We also have all health records in one place, so whether a provider is a primary care physician or a mental health specialist, they have a complete view of a person’s entire care needs. 

Building a holistic approach

It’s important to look at healthcare from a holistic perspective. Approaching healthcare in a silo, or treating people in a siloed manner, doesn’t benefit people — or make the system better. Our in-depth approach to primary care focuses on having providers who are well-trained so that they can help people manage everything from diabetes and heart disease to mental health and substance abuse issues.  

Our primary care physicians work closely with our mental health specialists. It’s an expansive view that doesn’t segment care; instead, these primary care providers are astute enough to assess a person’s mental health well-being to know when to bring in a mental health professional to provide the right care.  

We created Accolade Care to deliver a solution that encompassed  the entire spectrum of a person’s well-being. This is our holistic approach — it doesn’t parse primary care from mental health wellness. We see this as integral to delivering high-quality healthcare. 

Delivering healthcare equity through access

In the U.S., access to quality healthcare care isn’t equitable. Those living in rural areas are hit particularly hard. It’s estimated that as many as 30 million Americans live more than 60 minutes away from a trauma center. We know that nearly 33% of adults don’t have a primary care provider, and it’s estimated that between 54,000 and 139,000 physicians will be needed by 2033 to address the population’s healthcare needs.[3] 

Demand for mental health specialists is also increasing, especially after COVID. It’s projected that by 2025 there will be a shortage of up to 250,000 mental health providers.[4] The one upside to this is that mental health professionals, who have long been in demand to meet people’s needs, have been using virtual care much longer than other providers. We can learn from the head start these professionals have to further improve access to deliver equitable care to everyone. 

We also have technology on our side. At Accolade we use smart tech and data to provide the best experience possible. Data helps our Care Team get people to the right care at the right time. And our technology makes access easy — people can get the support they need, from anywhere — all it takes is a phone call or a tap on our mobile app.  

A solution to benefit everyone

Accolade Care is yet one more way we are looking to  deliver the right care at the right time.  It’s a seamless solution that’s easy to access and focuses on a person’s physical and mental well-being. COVID may have highlighted the shortcomings of the healthcare system, but it also gave us the impetus to find new ways to reinvent healthcare.  

Learn more about virtual care .  

Shantanu Nundy, MD, MBA, is a primary care physician, technologist, and business leader who is the chief medical officer at Accolade. He is the author of “ Care After COVID: What the Pandemic Revealed Is Broken in Healthcare and How to Reinvent It .”  

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6936a4.htm

[2] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality

[3]  https://www.trinityschoolofmedicine.org/blog/the-shortage-of-medical-doctors-grows-practicing-medicine-in-a-rural-area-alleviates-more-than-the-doctor-shortage

[4] https://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/annual/measure/MHP