The doctor will see you now... at your office
Workplace clinics making a resurgence
Employers are increasingly getting into the business of providing direct healthcare to their workers through on-site clinics after a several-year hiatus when the deep recession and uncertainty about national health reform made most of them gun-shy.
Just in the past six months, experts say, large to mid-size employers—and even some smaller companies—have dusted off previously shelved plans to launch clinics at the workplace where employers can receive primary and sometimes specialty care.
Technological advances, including electronic health records and telemedicine, have made the prospect cheaper and more appealing for employers that seek to promote wellness and prevention within their walls.
What’s more, some employers are jumping into the fray in order to lock down providers that will exclusively serve their workers in advance of 2014, when federal health reform is expected to extend access to millions of Americans who are now uninsured, potentially triggering a provider shortage.
“Healthcare reform coincided with the recession,” says Mike La Penna, principal of La Penna Group, a healthcare consulting practice based in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Employers were committed to the idea of workplace clinics, but they needed to find out how all these factors would impact them. Workplace clinics are sensitive to utilization, and with workforces fluctuating during the recession, the business case became softer.”
The resurging trend also reflects impatience about the delivery system, according to experts.
“It expresses dissatisfaction that the delivery system is not doing what it is supposed to do,” says Dr. Bruce Hochstadt, partner at the consulting firm Mercer and national work site health practice lead.
Workplace clinics have been around for decades, largely serving as occupational health centers for manufacturers. All that has changed in the past five years, as more employers seek to build clinics as hubs for wellness promotion— providing primary care, pharmacy, specialist care or referrals, and even physical therapy, nutrition counseling, fitness and acupuncture.
“A lot of our clients view these clinics as a reminder that we do have a culture of health,” Hochstadt says. Some even shun the term ‘clinic,’ preferring to call the on-site care a “healthy living institute” or a “wellness center,” he adds.
Take Cisco Systems’ LifeConnections Health Center, located at the information technology giant’s San Jose, Calif., headquarters. The center opened in 2008 and offers primary-care, laboratory and radiology services, a Walgreens pharmacy, vision care, chiropractic medicine, disease management and other services. A fitness center and day-care center serving 400 children are also on-site.
“We have a primary-care model of a medical home that is extended to include acupuncture, mental health services and health coaching,” says Sharon Gibson, director of the healthcare practice at Cisco. “Ours is an attempt to get employees engaged.”
The clinic serves employees and their families, who have insurance through one of three health plans. Kaiser Permanente has a physician and support medical staff on-site at the clinic, while employees with Cigna or UnitedHealthcare plans see other on-site providers. The clinic therefore uses two separate EHR systems depending on the insurer.
Cisco’s LifeConnections Health Center, located at the company’s San Jose, Calif., headquarters, offers a wide array of healthcare services.