Having care close at hand Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

As costs for business owners continue to rise, owners are welcoming new ideas and ways to reduce costs without affecting their company or employees. American employers faced with the rising cost of insuring their employees are turning to on-site clinics integrated with wellness to improve employee health, boost employee productivity and reduce their costs, says Sally Stephens, president of Spectrum Health Systems.

According to David Beech, a senior health management consultant at Hewitt Associates Inc., “A clinic serving about 1,000 employees (usually considered a minimum number for critical mass) can expect to make hard-dollar savings of $70,000 in the first year, mainly because of fewer visits to the ER and self-referrals to outside specialists. These savings can rise to $250,000 annually by the third year, when preventive savings kick in.”

Smart Business spoke with Stephens about on-site clinics and how implementing such clinics can benefit both employers and employees.

Is there a cost savings involved with on-site clinics?

According to a study published in the December 2005 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, employers can see a return of $3 to $6 for each dollar spent over two to five years on workplace health program strategies, which include medical screenings, financial perks for participation in health programs, health education classes, healthier food choices in the cafeteria and on-site clinics. Initially, such clinics are typically only opened to employees then later to spouses and dependents. Maximum savings will be generated when the entire family utilizes the clinic for health concerns that they might automatically seek through an outside provider.

What medical services do on-site clinics offer?

Employer-based clinics may offer a variety of services such as primary care, travel medicine, nutrition counseling, etc. Preventive services including health screenings and immunizations are the most common. Onsite clinics originally began by providing accident and injury care and have expanded into primary care, preventive services, disease and lifestyle education, distribution of pharmaceuticals, and some even provide diagnostic testing, such as X-rays. The level of services provided is dependent upon the needs of the client and capabilities of the clinic/wellness provider.

What are the benefits of on-site clinics?

Employers can reduce the number of visits employees make to more costly facilities, such as physicians’ offices and hospital emergency rooms. Having workplace access will also eliminate the need for the employee to miss an entire or partial day to an outside provider. Travel time is also eliminated. Wellness services can also help employees manage chronic health conditions and maintain better overall health, while reducing the amount of time they spend away from the job visiting off-site providers.

Is there ever any hesitation from employees to utilize such services?

Employees may hesitate to use the clinic if they question the confidentiality or are concerned that the employer will have access to their health information. Employees may also be reluctant to seek care from clinicians other than their own primary care physician. For those employees who might be questioning the value of the clinic, co-worker testimonials can often alleviate these concerns.

Today, most employers contract third-party providers to staff and manage the clinic. This can eliminate any issues regarding confidentiality on the part of the employees. Frequent communication regarding the benefits of the clinic can continue to increase the number of employees utilizing such services. Most employers allow employees to access the clinic at no or little cost, which serves as a powerful incentive.

How does the employee’s experience with a practitioner change with on-site clinics?

Employees who use the clinic frequently get in faster and spend more time talking to their practitioner. Practitioners then have the opportunity to explain the importance of preventive medicine. Because of the convenience of the on-site clinic, employees are more likely to seek care in a timely manner, avoiding delays that can exacerbate an illness or injury. The clinic saves the employee money when they avoid co-pays and deductibles that are standard requirements of almost all health plans.

Many clinics also offer generic or over the counter drugs at discounted or no cost. This can dramatically improve medication compliance and improve outcomes as well as save money for the employer and employee.

Should all companies consider implementing on-site clinics?

It is worth investigating for all companies. Often the determining factor is the size and demographics of the organization. Historically, employers with 1,000 employees or more are ideal candidates for on-site clinics. Due to the tremendous success of such clinics, smaller employers with several hundred lives are implementing or considering on-site clinics.

SALLY STEPHENS is president of Spectrum Health Systems. Reach her at Sally.Stephens@spectrumhs.com.