TOM SPANN, 54, of Plymouth Meeting, is CEO of Accolade, a Plymouth Meeting company whose professional health assistants help employees at large companies make informed decisions about health care. Spann, a former partner at management-consulting firm Accenture, co-founded Accolade in 2007. It has since grown to $32 million in annual revenues and almost 500 employees, including nurses, pharmacists and doctors.

Q: What's the genesis of Accolade?

A: I had some experience working with health-care startups at Accenture. People need help navigating the health-care system. They get frustrated going down paths that cost them health, time and money.

Q: How's the biz model work?

A: We designed it from the consumer back. They don't think anybody in the system is on their side. They still have Aetna or IBC on their insurance card, but the number is ours. When they call, instead of getting a typical member services rep, they get an Accolade personal health assistant. When you help people get the right care the first time, it costs less because there are no unnecessary stays or visits to hospitals.

Q: Can you give me an example?

A: We find that a big part of what we do is help families overcome barriers. If you're on 10 meds and they're $30 each per month, that's $300. We say, OK, what can we do to help you afford the meds, if that's a barrier.

Q: What's driving your growth?

A: It's the 8 percent annual health-care savings we're getting for clients. We hire people who are empathetic, good at problem solving and give them tech support. We reward people based on the quality of the relationships they build with clients.

Q: You're not the only company doing this, are you?

A: I think we are. The people who are copying us are actually the big health insurers. They're saying, "We can do what Accolade does." But they measure success differently. We don't [gauge] our effectiveness by how quickly we get a customer off the phone.

Q: Who are your clients?

A: Comcast was our first. We're up to five or six now. The people we serve are large employers and their employees.

Q: How much do services cost?

A: We get paid from savings. A large employer who's spending $10,000 per employee for health care and would have been spending $10,500 next year without Accolade, we share that $500.

Q: What's been the biggest challenge growing the business?

A: Trying to maintain our culture. It's a lot easier when there are only 20 employees. We're not just hiring people who work directly with clients, but also hiring support staff who come from different companies, and they inject their own flavor into the culture. But I think we have enough critical mass among employees who understand the company we want to be and help to enforce it.

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