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questions to ask when reviewing online wellness providers’ RFPs

January 13, 2011

in communication,mobile health,social media,wellness

i’ve been reviewing RFPs from online wellness providers for one of my clients. your mind can dull after slogging through page after page of “this message is habitually presented and becomes the habitual experience of the learner, empowering the learner to apply their knowledge in daily life.” keep your mind sharp and your selection sound by asking (at least) these questions when you’re seeking an online wellness partner.

strategy

  1. what audience are you trying to reach?
  2. does the online solution offer these employees something they want or need?
  3. what do you need this online solution to help you accomplish?
  4. how will this site interact or integrate with online information from other providers and sources?
  5. are the provider’s services unique or can you find comparable services elsewhere —and maybe for free?
  6. does the site have a content management system that lets you easily update the information?
  7. is the site flexible enough to grow with you as your strategy evolves?
  8. how healthy is the potential partner? are they likely to stay in business?

user experience

  1. is the site engaging?
  2. can employees find what they want quickly, easily and intuitively?
  3. is the site personalized? can it mine their data to deliver information that’s useful and helps them take action?
  4. is the health information from reliable sites and date-stamped to validate it’s current?
  5. can employees rate articles so the best information rises to the top? can they print and forward the good stuff?
  6. can employees and dependents access general, public information without authentication (login)? does authentication occur when it’s needed: when someone wants to access secure, personal information?
  7. does the site offer social or community opportunities to talk about health interests and concerns? what access is there to health experts?
  8. does the provider offer mobile solutions that sync with the website (e.g., pedometers and other data trackers)?
  9. is the site mobile-friendly?
  10. what customer support does the provider offer your employees by phone, email or online chat?

measurement

  1. what data does the site track? does it measure traffic and actions taken?
  2. who controls the data? do you have ongoing access to this information?
  3. how granular can you get? can you see by company, department or whatever demographic slice you need?
  4. how easily can you share the information? can you forward reports?

these are communication-related questions. in addition, you’ll want to know more about how they ensure data privacy, measure customer satisfaction, structure their fees, market and promote their solution, and on and on. remember: no solution delivers everything, so determine early on your priorities.

f

Leave a Comment

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Boese January 13, 2011 at 11:49 am

This is a great set of questions to ask a potential provider of online wellness solutions. Some other mundane, but important questions to ask might be how the solution can be integrated with the organizations existing user authentication systems and processes, how flexible is the solution to extract data to provide to benefits providers if needed, and what is the process to migrate from this solution (taking data, user information, and metrics along), if the organization decides to move in a new direction. Great set of tips, Fran.

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fran January 13, 2011 at 5:53 pm

steve, great additional questions. thanks, f

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Elizabeth January 13, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Great checklist, Fran…thanks for sharing!

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fran January 13, 2011 at 5:53 pm

elizabeth, they came in handy when i was reviewing 8 RFPs.

f

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Henry Albrecht January 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Great post. I especially like the strategy section — and would even add one Q: “Why wellness?”
There are many valid reasons — and your company’s approach may vary widely depending on which of these (or others) are most strategic. They are related of course — but their priority may be telling. e.g.:
Increase employee well-being
Increase employee health
Increase employee performance or productivity
Reinforce or invigorate your a fun and engaged corporate culture or brand
Attract and retain top talent
Reduce health care costs
Reduce employee absenteeism & presenteeism
Consolidate/streamline employee wellness services/administrative investmentresources

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fran January 18, 2011 at 9:43 am

henry, the mother of all questions, right? if you don’t know why you’re doing it, don’t do it.

f

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Bob Merberg January 15, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Great post, as always, Fran. This list of questions is truly valuable.
One of the challenges I’ve encountered has been in striking the balance in level of detail to solicit in the Request for Proposal. You want to ask enough questions to get appropriate info to make an assessment of the product (beyond the preliminary assessment, but not quite the final assessment, I guess), but not so many questions that you get volumes of detailed information far beyond what you and your team and/or consultants can possibly digest. Even in the final selection, I think it’s appropriate and wise to ask nitty-gritty detail questions, but I also have found that I need to let go of a need to know every possible detail. Some of them will only be understood during implementation.
Any thoughts regarding striking a balance in our attempts to learn the details but not get overloaded? The question make sense?
BTW: In the earliest days of the Employee Wellness Network, someone posted a link to a wellness RFP by the Missouri Consolidated Health Plans. It’s a great resource. While I think the RFP is *far* more extensive, detailed, and directive than anything most of us would want to use, it certainly offers a pool of questions and issues that we can draw upon as we create our own RFPs, share our expectations with consultants, or just define the criteria we want to use to evaluate vendors. You can see the posting with the link at http://ow.ly/3DBm7 .
Sorry for this long comment. I didn’t mean to hijack your blog!

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Carol Harnett January 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm

These are terrific thoughts, Fran – as you always have.

As I read through the list, I landed in the same place as Bob. Are there too many RFP questions?

I’ve watched up close, vendors and suppliers develop entire teams dedicated to responding to RFP questions. I’ve watched consultants, brokers and employers alike ask every imaginable question at incredible levels of detail. That approach can lead the reviewer to be overwhelmed with data to make a good decision – that is, there are no clear, easy-to-find answers to your key questions. Not in your case, Fran, but in many other cases, that’s because the RFP creator doesn’t know exactly what they want and/or how to ask for what they want.

In my mind a good RFP clearly states:
(1) here’s what we want – if you can’t provide these services, it’s a deal breaker;
(2) here’s what would be nice to have, and
(3) what have we missed? – give the supplier an opportunity to tell you about services or approaches they’d suggest you consider.

I recently was asked to bid on a consulting project for a corporation’s benefits area with another colleague. I’d never seen the process they used before and, in many ways, it was excellent. They invited candidates in for an in-person meeting and explained their challenges. We were sent away with a request – if we were interested – to submit a proposal for how we’d help them tackle their challenges.

It was a clean and simple process that allowed the respondents to give their best advice for that potential client. Yes, the corporation got some great, free consulting advice. But, it also allowed them to find people who could think without the help of a set of standard questions.

I’d suggest, Fran, that all of your questions are excellent. I’d add that I believe most of them are finalist presentation questions.

Wow! This post is way to long now. Going to stop!

Cheers!
Carol

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fran January 18, 2011 at 9:47 am

hi bob and carol.

i didn’t intend my list to be “the” list. they are some of the questions that i think are important to ask. they’re not even all, as there are questions around data integrity, reporting and the like that i didn’t even touch on. the point is to know what you want to achieve and who you want to reach. those will dictate a lot of the questions you ask, as will thinking about the relationship and actually working with these people day in and day out.

i really like the approach carol’s clients took. that requires trusting your potential partners and inviting them in to be part of the solution. truly part of the solution. a lot of companies don’t do that, and they don’t realize how much they shoot themselves in the foot because of it.

f

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Virgin HealthMiles January 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Great article. I would agree with some of the comments – it is important to think about what your top company objectives are. Don’t ask so many questions that the process becomes unwieldy but focus on what you really want to get out of the program. The key to a good corporate wellness program is being able to motivate employees, manage the program and measure the results. Are the questions in the RFP letting you understand how the provider will do this?

Another key topic to focus on is how results are measured. Is the program using validated or self-reported data? Look beyond the bells and whistles and make sure you look for someone who uses validated data so employers and employees alike are assured that changes in physical activity and key health measures are validated, and that rewards are earned for actual performance.

Also, Steve brought up a great point in his comment. How can the solution integrate incentives the company is already offering? Using an integrated incentives approach can help the organization maximize the impact of their overall spend.

Thanks, Fran for getting us all thinking!

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Bob Merberg January 17, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Virgin,
You make some good points. I’m interested in your distinction between validated and self-reported data. What data do you consider validated? Why would self-reported data not be considered valid?

Thanks!

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Virgin HealthMiles January 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Hi Bob,

It’s not that self-entered isn’t valid, it’s just that it might not be completely accurate. By validated data, I mean proven data. For instance, is the program asking employees to write in their current weight or is it asking them to step on a scale so it can calculate their weight and record it in an online platform. The benefit of the latter is that you then know all the data points are substantiated and then when measuring the ROI of the program you can see the true results of any behavioral shift. Does that make more sense?

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fran January 18, 2011 at 9:49 am

hi virgin and bob. virgin, your answer points out something else that’s critical: solutions that remove steps from a person’s life. if i want to lose weight, do i want to have to focus on every morsel going in my mouth and keeping a food log so that i’m mindful? the food log is going to go by the wayside and so will my intentions to eat better. but if technology makes it simple for me to see what i’m eating and its nutritional makeup, well then!

f

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Bob Merberg January 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Thanks, Virgin. Your answer makes sense. I share some of your doubt regarding self-reported data, though research shows that self-reported data is quite reliable for several, but certainly not all, healthy risk factors. I don’t quite share your confidence in more objective methods of measurement, especially body weight scales. But even lab values have a margin of error, including some that lead to false positives and negatives.

I think those of us in the wellness field (including me) need to learn more about the reliability and validity of health metrics, including self-report, body weight scales, BMI, and lab tests. Especially as we attach more weight (no pun) to these values, basing employees’ incentives and program evaluations on them, we should at least be using them in a manner supported by evidence. As with a lot of things in employee wellness, the most common practice these days is to make assumptions regarding metrics based (ironically) on intuition rather than evidence.

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Mimi October 21, 2015 at 6:57 pm

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