Accolade is teaming up with this growing startup to offer virtual mental health for employees

a coffee cup next to a pad of paper and pencil and a smartphone with a screen shot of the Ginger app
By partnering with Ginger, Accolade will integrate around-the-clock virtual mental health services for its 1.7 million members. (Ginger)

Workers' mental health is top of mind for CEOs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In second-quarter 2020 earnings calls, mentions of mental health and wellness more than quadrupled from the first quarter, jumping from 40 mentions to more than 140 mentions, according to CB Insights.

Company executives recognize there is a looming behavioral health crisis stemming from the pandemic and that it's driving demand for mental health tools for employees.

In response, health benefits platform Accolade is teaming up with Ginger to make it easier for employees to access on-demand mental health services.

By partnering with Ginger, Accolade will integrate around-the-clock virtual mental health services for its 1.7 million members. Accolade, which went public last year, works with 60 corporate customers including Comcast, United Airlines and Lowe's. 

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The two companies are working together to offer an employer health and benefits solution that integrates mental and physical health care to improve employee health and reduce healthcare costs, said Shantanu Nundy, M.D., Accolade's chief medical officer.

The collaboration between Accolade and Ginger aims to bridge the gap between physical and behavioral health by combining Ginger's on-demand mental health care services with Accolade's personalized approach to care navigation.

"Through this partnership, employees will have immediate access to the right level of behavioral healthcare within minutes or hours, rather than waiting weeks or months for a referral to a provider, which is the typical wait time in the traditional healthcare system," said Justin Hunt, M.D., Ginger's medical director and head of psychiatry. 

Ginger has seen record-high demand for mental health support to address stress, anxiety and depression during the current health crisis. The startup recently banked a $50 million funding round to expand its services and launch new partnerships.

In the last week of August 2020, weekly utilization rates were 148% higher for behavioral health coaching and 280% higher for therapy and psychiatry when compared to pre-COVID-19 averages, according to Ginger.

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Employer-focused startups in this space are seeing rapid growth. Lyra Health provides mental health benefits for large employers and has joined the ranks of health technology unicorns. The startup recently closed a $110 million series D funding round, boosting its valuation north of $1 billion.

Founded in 2007, Seattle-based Accolade uses machine learning, artificial intelligence and mobile apps to help employees navigate their health benefits and access care. The company is using its data and intelligence capabilities to proactively identify members at risk for mental health issues.

Accolade’s front-line care teams then reach out to members, conduct assessments to uncover their needs and guide them to the most appropriate mental health provider, including Ginger's on-demand mental health coaching, virtual therapy or virtual psychiatry.

"Physical and mental health conditions often go hand-in-hand, and it's time that we start treating them that way," Hunt said.

Accolade will collaborate with Ginger’s team of mental health providers to coordinate care for members using a shared care plan and through joint "case rounds." Care teams also will coordinate with a member's primary care physician to ensure mental and physical health care needs are being addressed, the companies said.

Accolade also plans to track clinical outcomes across all levels of risk rather than only tracking member utilization and access. 

Historically, employers have approached workers' physical and mental health care separately.

"People who have both chronic mental health and physical health needs have a much higher burden of disease and higher avoidable costs. The idea of integrating physical and mental health care together, that was something new for employers," Nundy said.

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By utilizing claims data, Accolade can identify members who have unaddressed needs and proactively reach out to connect that member with the appropriate services. That can lead to better outcomes as well as cost savings for employers and health plans, Nundy said.

"If we identify a member with diabetes and we see they have a lot of emergency room visits and they have not been taking their medication, we can reach out to them and do a mental health screening. That person could have underlying mental health needs related to feeling stressed and overwhelmed," he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a tremendous strain on the mental health of front-line healthcare workers. Accolade customer Temple Health University System in Philadelphia has signed on to offer Ginger's on-demand mental health service for its employees.

"Temple has a diverse employee base of healthcare professionals who are working incredibly hard through difficult times and, in line with high-performing health systems throughout the country, 2020 has taken a toll on our teams," said John Lasky, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Temple University Health System.

"We understand the importance of driving medical advances through clinical innovation—and we are quick to recognize that Accolade is delivering an integrated mental and physical health solution that can have significant impact on the overall well-being of our people, and our business," Lasky said.