On-site health clinics pay dividends for employers

On-site health clinics pay dividends for employers

We’re seeing more interest in on-site health clinics among employers. The benefits can include cost savings, more predictable costs, productivity gains, improved employee wellness, and more timely access to health care for employees and their families.

How it works

Generally, an employer provides a location and hires a provider to run a workplace clinic for a set fee.

A clinic may be staffed full-time, with one or more providers, such as nurse practitioners, physicians and physical therapists. In some cases, the employer covers the entire cost, allowing employees completely free access. In other cases, employees share some cost through co-pays. At smaller employers, the clinic may be staffed a day or two per week.

Obviously, for an on-site clinic to pencil out, you need a certain number of employees. But we’re seeing smaller employers than in the past looking into this option. And in some cases, several smaller employers may be able to pool resources to set up a joint clinic.

Smaller employers may also avail themselves of specific services. For example, an occupational therapist goes to Alsco once a week, walks through its facility and talks with employees about ergonomics and provides stretches and/or guidance for injury prevention. Other services that might be helpful include health fairs, biometric screenings, wellness coaching, wellness seminars, and immunizations.

What’s in it for an employer?

Why exactly would you do this? For one thing, you’ll be offering your employees easier, more affordable access to primary care. And that brings bottom-line benefits to your business, too:

Cost control. Especially for large employers and those that are self-insured, the company may see reduced, more predictable health care expenses.

Improved productivity. On-site clinics can improve overall employee wellness and reduce lost time due to illness and traveling to health care appointments.

A perk. Employees value this benefit, so it can be helpful in recruiting and retaining workers.

To understand how it plays out, here are two local examples:

Monaco Coach: We ran an on-site clinic for the RV maker Monaco Coach for several years before the recession. The clinic staff included nurse practitioners and a part-time physician. It also offered physical therapy and an on-site pharmacy.

In many ways, Monaco was an ideal company for an on-site clinic, because it had roughly 2,000 employees and was self-insured. Also, the employees tended to be younger, and younger people are less likely to have a regular primary care physician.

Before the clinic was set up, Monaco, being self-insured, was paying millions of dollars a year for regular office visits and for emergency or urgent care visits, many of which were occurring only because the patients didn’t have a primary care physician. And, without an established relationship with a physician, it often took a couple weeks or more to get an appointment.

The onsite clinic allowed employees quick, easy access to primary care, even when they had no regular doctor. By paying a fixed fee for the clinic and reducing direct payments to doctors’ offices, urgent care clinics and hospitals, Monaco realized significant cost savings. And the reduction in travel time to appointments improved productivity, especially helpful for Monaco, as it was about 10 miles outside the metro area.

Eugene School District: The Eugene School District has had an employee clinic for more than 20 years. It offers free primary care to the district’s roughly 2,000 employees. About 80 percent of employees have used the clinic at some point, said David Brewer, who works in the district’s human resources department and who helped set up the clinic more than 20 years ago.

“One of the things you are trying to do is improve overall employee health,” Brewer said. “When employees go to the clinic because they aren’t feeling well, they are seen in a timely manner and treated with high quality care. Additionally, a relationship develops between the provider and the patient, opening the door to discussions about wellness, prevention, and lifestyle. For the employer, the value of an on-site clinic is the ability to control costs and quality. Employees benefit by receiving a service that enhances their health and quality of life. Everyone wins.”

The clinic also integrates mental health services. Increasingly, this is a key part of proactive care, as depression and other treatable mental illnesses can have significant effects on overall costs and productivity.

Getting a handle on chronic conditions and improving wellness will ease upward pressure on an employer’s insurance premiums.

Every clinic is different

Every employer is different. The location, size and make-up of the workforce, the nature of the health insurance plan and the goals of the organization all vary. And so the details of any on-site clinic will be different from site to site. The health care contractor should be willing to tailor a customized solution for each employer to reach the goal of a healthier, more productive workforce.

As Brewer reflects on his career with the Eugene School District, he says of the on-site health clinic: “It’s the thing I’m most proud of having done.”