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Health @ Work

Visit the doctor. . .at work?

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For decades, large companies have had on-site health care, but these clinics usually focused on work-related injuries. In recent years, clinics have begun to expand, becoming fully staffed primary care offices, treating everything from a sore throat to diabetes.

The work-site health clinic arose as a way to cut health care costs for companies—especially the growing cost of treating chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease—which are on the rise.

The idea is to provide easy access to health care professionals as a way of encouraging people to see a doctor more often and therefore catch problems, like high blood sugar or high cholesterol early, before a disease takes hold. With a health care team right in the office, employees are more likely to see a doctor, and follow up with visits and recommendations.

“The main advantages are easy access to care, convenience, decreased lost work time, and sometimes reduced cost of health care to the patient,” said Dr. Allan Khoury, senior health management consultant with Towers Watson, a health care consultant company.

Some companies offer visits for free, whereas others require a fee that is typically less than what employees would pay through their regular health insurance plan.

“The whole reason why it works is because [health care professionals] are at work with you, they are available, they’re accessible,” said Stuart Clark, CEO of CHS Health Services, which provides 140 on-site health centers across the country.

What typically happens for patients seeing their primary care physicians is that they see them once a year, or less, and there is little follow-up on weight loss, cholesterol or other issues between visits. In these clinics, according to Clark, “follow-up is part of our process, you don’t check out until there is a next step, a referral, and our staff makes that appointment, and we call you after the appointment,” he said.

Last year, 28 percent of large U.S. employers (companies with over 1,000 employees) had on-site health clinics. By the end of this year, 32 percent will bring them on board, according to a survey by Towers Watson, an industry consultant.   

Traditonal corporate wellness programs, like fitness programs and weight-loss and smoking-cessation programs, have a fairly low participation rate, well below 20 percent, but companies that utilize CHS’ on-site clinics have as many as 40 to 50 percent of employees participate.  Aside from the convenience, employees typically see their costs go down, or at least not increase as rapidly as those who don’t use clinics. They also tend to use emergency rooms and urgent care less often, and they receive fewer radiological test and lab tests (many labs tests are unnecessary).

Clinics are typically open to employees and their families. They are staffed by physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, dieticians and in many cases, physicians. They can prescribe medications and will typically refer you to a specialist if one is needed.

According to a Towers Watson survey, 63 percent of on-site medical clinics offer primary care, 70 percent offer urgent care, and 81 percent offer screenings for blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol levels and blood sugar. All offer the flu shots.

Here are some more benefits you might see are:

  • Significantly shorter wait times
  • Same-day (often immediate) walk-in availability
  • Less expensive or in some cases free of cost to the patient
  • Requires no travel time
  • Clinics are subject to very specific privacy rules – which ensures the patient is fully in control of their personal health information

Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.