Seeing the doctor can involve hours away from work. But what if the doctor were at your office? Employer-run workplace clinics (health centers at or near your office and staffed by health care professionals) can offer a variety of services, from preventive care to routine tests and vaccinations.
The benefits to employees are clear — having a clinic at or near the office can save employees out-of-pocket costs, improve their long-term health and cut down their wait times. According to a 2007 study by the Center for Studying Health System Change, roughly 8 percent of American families had a family member who had used a workplace clinic.
But what about the benefits for employers? According to Center for Studying Health System Change, operating these clinics rarely saves money for businesses. But clinics can give employers more flexibility in the health insurance benefits they offer employees and yield other advantages, such as:
- Reducing expensive ER visits.
- Increasing productivity by offering convenient health care at the office.
- Extending the face time a patient has with a clinician.
- Improving care (and decreasing missed work hours) for employees with chronic conditions.
- Saving on prescription dispensing, lab work and administrative costs.
- Sparing patients from forking over co-pays.
- Recruiting employees by making a workplace more attractive.
The federal health care reform law has created additional incentives, like grants for small businesses, to encourage employers to adopt workplace wellness initiatives. Anywhere from one-fifth to one-third of large employers already offer on-site workplace clinics, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change.
Large employers have long used workplace clinics to handle employee health needs, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change. In the 1980s, this was a common practice for businesses. But slowdowns in various economic sectors caused many of these clinics to close.
Challenges abound for employers that want to create workplace clinics. According to the Center for Studying Health System Change, it takes sustained engagement to make this kind of system functional:
- Employees need to trust the clinic.
- The clinic must be set up to accommodate new patients.
- Because clinic staff will be expected to spend lots of face-to-face time with patients, they need to be appropriately skilled and qualified.
The Center for Studying Health System Change also notes that employers must be realistic about these challenges and their expectations for return on investment. According to Wellness for Life, a company that helps businesses launch workplace clinics, the full benefits of a clinic might take two to three years to come to realize.