The Most Trusted Man at Accolade Inc.

Richard Eskew may be the chief privacy officer at Accolade, but his colleagues rarely have difficulty finding him. Because he is available to talk and answer employees’ questions, he is able to keep privacy and security front and center for Accolade’s more than 900 employees.

Accolade customers are typically self-insured employers. “Accolade combines highly intelligent technology, clinical expertise, and compassion to help individuals make the right health care decisions at the right time,” Eskew said. Doing so requires going beyond standard transactional questions like “is this doctor in my network?” and diving deeper into the social, behavioral, community, and lifestyle factors that influence an individual’s health.

By helping members make smart health care decisions, Accolade can reduce costs for members and employer customers, while also improving health outcomes for members. Eskew says that in order to do this, the company has to build trusted relationships with its members. “Making sure we’re handling people’s very sensitive personal information and protected health information in a private and secured way is part and parcel of building that trusted relationship,” he said. “Everything we do here at Accolade is built with privacy and security of data in mind—top of mind—from the outset.”

Eskew oversees employee training modules that deal with protecting privacy and building trust. It’s not just new hires who get this training; privacy trainings are conducted quarterly as well as annually. But, he said, the training is truly ongoing. “It’s that feedback loop we have that makes our program really special. We’re listening to what’s going on in the day-to-day operations, and we’re providing timely guidance and feedback back into the system.”

Because health events happen in real time, Eskew set up his team to be able to respond quickly to questions from member-facing representatives (Accolade health assistants and nurses) who support members. “We’re able to provide quick guidance in the most compliant and private way possible, while also making sure that we’re giving support to help [a member] out,” Eskew said.

Eskew said he can tell he’s reaching Accolade employees because his team is so busy. “I know we’re getting the message out when people are getting back to us with questions,” he said. Most of the time, the questions aren’t about unanticipated scenarios but about employees wanting to confirm that they are handling the situation correctly.

Another measure of the Accolade’s success is its market reach. “We have some really sophisticated customers of all sizes that understand our program and have entrusted us with their employees’ sensitive information,” Eskew said. This also means trusting the company to build relationships with individual members.

Eskew isn’t just a privacy officer; he’s general counsel for Accolade as well, which makes risk management part of his role. But he faces that the same way he faces other duties. “One of the key ways I’m able to identify and work through any risks to the company is by building a relationship with everybody in the organization so they feel comfortable coming to me,” he said. “When you’re an in-house lawyer, you think of all employees as your client.”

He also works to build trusted relationships with Accolade’s corporate customers—whether it’s their compliance teams, their privacy teams, or other leaders. “A company does not grow this rapidly if customers don’t trust both the service and the people running and overseeing that service,” Eskew said. “A big part of what I think about every day is making sure that as a team, we’re building those relationships.”

“I have a real passion for this stuff. As much as I could come at it from a highly technical perspective, at Accolade, I really come at it from the mission perspective and supporting the people who are improving people’s lives every single day,” Eskew concluded.

Read the full interview here.