Podcast: Successful Rollout with Nikki McGrath

In this episode of the Well-Being Experts podcast, we’re examining the biggest drivers behind the successful implementation and the rollout of a wellness plan. We sat down with Nichole McGrath, Director of Member Experience at Onlife Health, to talk about how to make a positive initial engagement and how to increase program awareness across all members.

“It means starting early with the communication. You don't want to rollout a program, and then start communicating about this program, or telling employees, "This is what you need to do. Go do this. There's this available to you and this available to you." You need to start very early on in implementation and communicating the benefits of our program to the employees.”




Want to dive deeper into this Well-Being Experts podcast? Here's the full transcript from our discussion with Nikki McGrath, Director of Member Experience for Onlife Health.


Nikki McGrath: It means starting early with the communication. You don't want to rollout a program, and then start communicating about this program, or telling employees, "This is what you need to do. Go do this. There's this available to you and this available to you." You need to start very early on in implementation and communicating the benefits of our program to the employees.

Host: This is the Well-being Experts podcast and you just heard from Nikki McGrath, Director of Member Experience at Onlife Health. This episode is examining the biggest drivers behind the successful implementation and the rollout of a wellness plan. Included in this conversation is how to make a positive initial engagement, how to increase program awareness across all members, and much more. For more content like this, head over to onlifehealth.com/resources. Enjoy the conversation!

Nikki: Hi there, my name is Nichole McGrath. I am director of member experience here at Onlife Health. I work in our coaching center and I also work closely with our account management and implementation teams to make sure that all of our clients get off on the right foot with their wellness programs.

Host: Yes, I am looking forward to talking to you today a little bit about the implementation, specifically with the rollout. And to get us started, opening question is just, why is a good rollout important?

Nikki: Good rollout is important. As you can imagine, it really sets the tone, sets the stage for how the rest of the program is going to go. More specifically, it really sets the stage for the clients' perceptions of the program and confidence in our ability to manage that program. And then also at the employee or the member level, making sure that they have a really great first experience in their wellness program so that they are more likely to engage with us going forward. It's also important because this is our opportunity to make sure that we are really communicating effectively, that we're giving them the right information so that they know how to engage with the program and have access to the right tools.

Host: It sounds sort of like a first impression.

Nikki: Absolutely.

Host: And if you mess up the first impression, it's going to take you – it's just super important to get this right.

Nikki: Yeah. It could go really well, it could go really poorly, and that's important. It's about how the member is going to feel about that program the very first time. First impressions are important.

Host: So let's take it step by step. When there is a health plan client looking at making sure their rollout is successful, it is a great first impression. What are some of the major decisions that need to be made to make sure it is successful?

Nikki: The first step for a successful rollout and through that implementation period is really – first just making sure we clearly identify and really understand what the clients' goals are and what their expectations are for that rollout, what that rollout is going to look like. That starts with having a clear understanding of the corporate goals, just in general, but certainly what their overarching philosophy is around wellness, what they want to see in their program, what components are going to be a part of that program. So all of that goes into play.

Once you identify what those goals are, once you identify what components are going to be in that program, it's really important to make sure you have a really robust timeline in place so that we have a road map. We have something that we can follow. This is the tool that we're going to use to help facilitate communication between us, Onlife as the wellness provider, and then also with the client. If that's a health plan, if that's an employer – helps us understand who's responsible for what pieces.

Then of course, what those milestones are and having some dates associated with that. You can imagine, implementing and rolling out a wellness program is huge. There's are a lot of moving pieces. There's are a lot of people involved. Again, clearly understanding the goals, clearly identifying what that timeline is so we can meet those milestones, and execute on that rollout date.

Host: What are the biggest drivers behind those decisions? Is it to increase initial engagement, drive program awareness, something totally separate from those?

Nikki: I would say that initially the biggest driver is for that initial engagement. It's just getting members in the door. It's just getting them to activate with their wellness program. So that's the first step. But beyond that, we really want to see some growth in the wellness program. And we want to see some outcomes. So we know that participation or just starting a wellness program is very different from being actively engaged in a program. So we want to see that.

We want to see people get started and we want to see the sustained engagement, them sticking with the program. And the point of all that is so that they can change their behaviors and then ultimately so that we see the effect on health outcomes and of the population ultimately those cost savings. So it's a continuum. It's let's start with the participation, then sustained engagement, then let's see some behavior change, and ultimately improve their outcomes.

Host: Right, so there's a lot of different pieces to the puzzle. And when you're thinking about the toughest decisions that have to be made, whether this is maybe the priority of how this all fits into the timeline, just generally curious about some of those decisions that – what do you think are some of the hardest decisions in the rollout process?

Nikki: I would say probably one of the most difficult decisions tends to be around budget, around money. How much are we going to spend and invest in this program because it really is an investment?

Host: It's probably not a surprise. That doesn't surprise you?

Nikki: No. No, when it comes to wellness programs, one of the things that we have to be really transparent with our clients on is that because it's an investment, this means putting in some money at the beginning. And often it means driving engagement with some activities that are going to cost some money initially. So whether that's driving members to complete their preventive screenings, when you're talking about a population that really hasn't been engaged in preventive care in the past, now you're asking them, "Go use your benefits. We need you to go to the doctor. Get those preventive screenings so that we can mitigate any risks going forward." And so, again, one of those decisions is around how much to spend so that in the long run you can help improve those health outcomes and ultimately save some money.

Host: All right. Now, in that topic of saving money. So when you have a health plan, there's millions of members. Are there any strategies for cost-saving measures that can be used that really has a big impact when you scale it up to the millions?

Nikki: A couple of things that I'm thinking about. One is what I just mentioned around the preventive screenings, so helping our groups understand the importance of effective communication strategies, and really communicating to members about their benefits, about those preventive screenings which, again, in the end, is going to save money for our clients. So, that's one. That's usually a really big piece for our health plan partners.

And then, secondly, it's just using all the tools and resources effectively. And so having a clear understanding of how you can reach people. You don't want to spend, or you don't want to waste money with ineffective communication strategies. And so figuring out the best way to connect to the people. And that means understanding your population really well, understanding what's going to get them engaged, understanding how best to communicate with them.

Host: And it's just like you talked about earlier with that timeline with the first step, listening. Are there any thoughts that you have about trying to understand those that you're trying to reach early on, especially when you're rolling out something that's totally new? You know, when you have something new that comes into the workplace, that might seem a little bit, "What's going on here? What's happening?" It might seem invasive, so what are some of the tactics that you see that works best in a rollout as it relates to asking questions and making sure that you can get the buy-in?

Nikki: It means starting early with the communication. You don't want to roll out a program and then start communicating about this program or telling employees, "This is what you need to do. Go do this. There's this available to you and this available to you." You need to start very early on in implementation and communicating the benefits of our program to the employees. Helping them to understand the value of it, that it isn't meant to be this invasive program. Helping them see how it can be beneficial to them. So communication, you'll probably hear me say that a lot today because it is so important for the clients but then also at the employee level.

Host: So that's one of the key ingredients, listening, communication. Are there other qualities that you find fit really well within a successful, good rollout?

Nikki: Outside of the communication piece, it is understanding – making sure that both parties, so the client and then Onlife, making sure that we really understand what the client wants to get out of the program, and then what Onlife plans to deliver. That's a big piece of it.

Host: What other qualities come to your mind when you've seen great examples of a successful rollout that others would want to model after?

Nikki: Some of the most successful rollouts – it can be surprising. Because it's often around a strategy, a wellness program that is actually really simple. And that's important, because you want to make sure that the members really understand the program, it's not too complicated for them. They can easily get confused if there are too many options, or too many places to go, or too many parties involved.

And we want it to be a really seamless experience for them, which is one of the great things that Onlife does, is being able to integrate with other vendors, with other partners, and being able to kind of consolidate those resources for the employees. In addition to communication, that piece is really important. Having a simple program, having a clear program, and making sure that members really understand what they need to do to get the incentive. And so that's...

Host: Really? Could you tell me more about what you mean by that?

Nikki: To get members engaged in a program, two ways to – I mean there are a number of ways to do that, but I'm thinking of two things here. First, there's helping them to understand the value, the intrinsic value for them participating in these programs. I can improve my health, I can improve my well being, I'll be happier, I'll be less stressed.

So there's that piece of it, but in terms of the extrinsic motivation, most of these programs are going to have some sort of monetary incentive involved, and so if it's benefits integrated or contributions to their health savings account or gift cards or whatever it may be, we want to make that program simple so that members know exactly what they need to do to get those sort of benefits. We want it to be easy so that they can get engaged to improve their health, but then also there's that other extrinsic piece that we want to make sure they are successful in.


Well-being Experts is supported by Onlife Health. Onlife Health is a comprehensive wellness provider serving health plans and large employers nationwide. With over 10 million members and 20 years of industry experience, Onlife takes a high-touch, high-tech approach to wellness that creates real results for your population. Find out more at onlifehealth.com.


HostSo something I did also want to ask you about is the pitfalls to avoid when implementing a rollout. Now, I'm sure this is, of course, the opposite of a great rollout. The great ingredients includes communication and simplicity. So the opposite, the worst thing to do just based on what you said is, don't communicate anything and make it very complex.

Nikki: Yeah, that would be bad to do that.

Host: So are there other pitfalls other than those two that came to mind when – and then maybe just also include here just lessons learned that you've seen other people experience in the industry?

Nikki: It's really important to make sure you have buy-in from the client, from the top down, so that you have leadership. You've engaged that C-suite in those conversations, that you clearly understand what their goals are, and they understand what will you bring to the table. We also want to make sure that we understand how they define success, what – this has happened a couple of times, where you have a really great implementation and a really great rollout, and then a client comes to the table and says, "Well, now we want this. We didn't know we wanted this a couple of months ago, but now we want this." And then, you're of course, wanting to make sure that you're meeting the needs of the client.

Certainly, if they are realistic needs and realistic requests. But if we can avoid that by really being thoughtful. Let's really think though, let's be forward-thinking about what you are going to need throughout the program. So we're not developing things. We are not figuring things out things as we go on the fly. And that's what our experience, what we bring to the table. We've done this enough times. So we know what sort of things are going to come up one month post rollout, two months post rollout. So let's bring that to the conversation early on, during implementation phase. Let's talk through those. Let's really make sure we understand what you as the client, how you define success and then make sure we can get you there.

Host: I like that. What are the differences, or are there differences, between rollouts with health plans and employers?

Nikki: There's a big difference. With employers, even if they may have multiple locations, maybe dispersed workforce, they tend to have one strategy, and in most cases, they're going to have pretty much one program for most of their employees, and one incentive plan, one incentive structure in place. In contrast, when you're working with health plan partners, they're really representing a number of different groups, and in some cases, thousands upon thousands of different groups that you can imagine are going to have different philosophies, different strategies.

And so with health plans, they tend to want to have a program that's broad-based enough that they can apply it to all of those groups. But even so, you're going to have one-off requests, you're going to be dealing with some really small groups, and some really large groups, some very elementary programs, and some very sophisticated programs. So that can be more difficult to manage, more difficult to navigate. So often having different options in place, so that they can – the health plan can select which one's going to be the best fit for that particular group, is going to be really beneficial.

Host: It helps with the guiding of the conversation, because it's still – all of these are still going to be custom, and it's all based on the needs of what they want, and then, it all starts though with that communication piece.

Nikki: What's tricky with the health plans though – when we talk about communication – is because we are speaking to the masses here. Health plans tend to have a less robust communication plan, are a little limited in terms of the education that they can provide to their groups, so that's tricky as well. But even so, communication is certainly a piece of that. And, in that case, that's another reason why keeping the program simple, but still giving the groups and the members enough options is so critical.

Host: Excellent. One of the final things I want to ask you is really – it just comes down to what your final thoughts are about something that – maybe a lens we could look through on this is, if there's any areas in planning or executing a rollout that typically causes friction? How to avoid that? Basically, if you hear anything in this, like what should you make sure you do, so this works successfully?

Nikki: Sure. So, outside of what we've already talked about, I think something….

Host: We've covered a lot already.

Nikki: We have, yeah. And I think, outside of that, what's important is – I'm thinking of a situation maybe where there's already another vendor in place, and we have displaced them. The group has decided to go with Onlife for a variety of reasons, and there may be some preconceived ideas about what a wellness program looks like that we have to deal with. And sometimes they have something in place that they think is good, but may not be the best approach for their population. 

So, it's making sure that we understand – if they do have something in place, it's important to understand why it's in place and if it's really a value-add? And if it isn't, let's talk about an approach to improve that. If this is something that's important to you, let's make sure that we can manage that for you, but understand that it might be a little bit different. If Onlife is doing this, it might look a little bit different from how you've done it in the past.

Host: Do you ever get – when you basically say, "Hey, this is going to be different," are you faced with any reservations or is that usually good? Like, "All right, I want to go. I want to change." I mean, that's probably why they're changing, right?

Nikki: Yeah, we're definitely faced with that sometimes, where they're going to say, "We've been unhappy with our program in the past, but we like this component of it." And it might be something that if it's a great idea, we say, "Sure, let's keep doing that." In other cases, again, as the experts, if it is maybe something that we don't necessarily agree with, the onus is on us then to say, "This isn't the best approach, but here's what we would recommend in place of that. And I think you'll achieve what you're going for by doing this instead of what you're doing right now."

Host: Thank you to today's guest, and a big thank you to you for listening along with us.


Well-being Experts is brought to you by Onlife Health, a comprehensive wellness solutions company that has spent years working with health plans and large employers nationwide. Today's podcast and additional perspectives from the Well-being Experts can be found at onlifehealth.com/resources. We welcome your comments, questions, feedback, all of the above, at engage@onlifehealth.com.