Large employers look to on-site health clinics to reduce costs and absenteeism

October 21, 2012

On-site health care clinics are increasingly being set up at large companies that are looking for new ways to reduce health care costs and boost employees’ productivity.

These facilities are being established by firms across all sectors to offer everything from urgent and primary care to biometric screenings to chronic disease management.

A study this year by the Society for Human Resource Management found that only 8 percent of employers across the country currently have such clinics. But among big companies — where large numbers of employees mean a clinic can more easily amass enough patients to justify its cost — these facilities are becoming more common. A recent study by the National Business Group on Health found that 46 percent of large employers offered at least one on-site clinic, up from 37 percent the previous year.

In the Washington region, some workplaces that have established such clinics say they have seen a return on their investment: It has helped them save money and reduce absenteeism.

At Discovery Communications, some 85 percent of the workforce visits its on-site clinic. The center provides an unusually comprehensive range of services, including physicals, pap smears, weight management programs and even travel immunizations and infertility counseling.

By comparing the cost of a visit to the clinic to the cost of a visit to a private doctor, Discovery estimates it will save $2.2 million this year.

The Silver Spring-based firm has also opened its health center to employees’ spouses and children over the age of 12, a move that helps them achieve additional savings since they’d otherwise have to pay for their visits to private doctors.

The clinic at Hughes Network Systems, a Germantown-based satellite company, is smaller. It employs just one nurse, but the company said she had 4,700 visits from employees in 2011.

“If people are using her that much, it’s that much less time that they’re having to spend away from their desk,” said Lynne Rusnak, senior director of human resources.

Other employers are weighing whether such a facility makes sense for their organization.

Montgomery County has an occupational health center to conduct physicals for firefighters and police officers. But its director of human resources, Joe Adler, said the county is seeking proposals from vendors to build a clinic to serve all of its workers.

“There’s an upfront expenditure, and we want to make sure that the expenditure down the road has results,” Adler said.

Some experts say that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act could accelerate or expand interest in employer-sponsored clinics.

With millions of Americans poised to get health insurance, “A lot of our clients are nervous that it’s going to clog an already strained delivery system,” said Bruce Hochstadt, a partner and consultant with human resource consulting firm Mercer.

The heightened interest in on-site health centers has also been advantageous for some local companies that contract with employers to set up and operate such facilities.

Reston-based CHS Health Services specializes in designing, equipping, and managing employer-sponsored on-site clinics. In 2011, the firm received 55 requests for proposals to build such facilities. So far this year, the firm has received 64 requests. CHS also said that its revenue grew 35 percent in 2012 after rising 30 percent the previous year.

Another provider of local on-site clinics, Inova Health System, said it has added staff to deal with demand for these services.

“We’ve put more resources in delivering care and health services to employers. And [on-site clinics] would be one of those areas, and it’s really based on interest,” said Jeffrey Carr, the corporate and consumer growth officer at the Falls Church-based health care provider.

46%

Percentage of large employers (those with more than 100 employees) that had on-site medical clinics last year, according to a National Business Group on Health survey.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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