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To get the most from health centers, bring them onsite


It's no secret that skyrocketing costs are putting a financial burden on businesses trying to provide affordable health care benefits to their employees.

Unfortunately, many companies are addressing this challenge and controlling costs by reducing health-related benefits. But reducing these benefits has its own risks. It can result in more employee health issues, increased absenteeism and ultimately reduce productivity. This can negatively impact the bottom line even more than the cost of providing those benefits.

With employees working harder and longer hours than ever before, many don't have time to go to their family doctor to treat a minor illness. Instead, they ignore it, often get sick and miss work anyway. And, they're spending even less time getting preventative care. Considering that fewer employees are covered by group health plans today than they were five years ago, this isn't a good scenario for promoting a healthy workplace.

Fortunately, there's a trend occurring that may offer a solution to the challenge of providing quality, yet affordable, employer-sponsored health care. The recent growth of onsite employee health centers is helping balance the investment in health services with the needs of employees. According to benefits consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide, about 25% of Fortune 1000 companies are expected to have onsite employee health centers by the end of this year, up from the 15% that had them last year. Fueling this trend are higher premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance, which increased 7.7% in 2006, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Benefits of onsite health centers

Onsite health centers complement a company's employee group health insurance plan by providing basic treatment for minor illnesses or injuries at the workplace. These facilities do not replace health coverage for major issues such as hospitalizations and surgeries. They often provide preventative health care services such as health screenings, immunizations and wellness programs to help minimize workplace illnesses.

The benefits of onsite health centers include:

  • Lower direct and indirect health care costs to the employer.

  • Reduced absenteeism, resulting in increased employee productivity.

  • Convenient access to health care services for the employee.

  • Better, more compassionate health care tailored to employee needs.

  • Proactive preventative programs to identify health problems early and maintain a healthy workforce.

  • An enhanced company benefits package, which can aid in recruitment and retention of top caliber employees.

Traditionally, most onsite health centers have been found in Fortune 1000 companies with large corporate offices or manufacturing facilities requiring onsite occupational medical facilities.

Today, with many customized service options available, onsite health centers have become a more affordable option for many midsize companies with only a few hundred employees at a location. For example, a full-service center staffed by physicians with onsite test labs and even a pharmacy may be an option for a large manufacturing plant with thousands of employees. A midlevel facility staffed by physician's assistants and nurses is a popular option for a corporate campus, while a limited-hours center staffed by a single nurse may be a more practical option for a smaller regional office site.

Outsourcing the operation of an onsite health center to a third-party service provider is a cost-effective option for many companies. For a fixed fee, the service provider completely manages all aspects of day-to-day center administration, including recruiting, training, staffing, credentialing, and procuring equipment and supplies. They also assume full medical malpractice liability and assure total regulatory compliance. This allows the employer to focus entirely on its core business, instead of the complexities and liabilities of operating a medical facility.

Typically, a third-party service provider can pay for itself through cost efficiencies achieved by its operations expertise, access to national discounts and reduced malpractice liability of the employer.

Is it worth the investment?

Selecting the best onsite health center option for your company requires balancing service needs and space availability with financial resources. No matter the size and scope of the center, the return on investment is well documented. Workers compensation cost reductions of 25% to 30% and general health care cost reductions of 15% to 18% are common at companies investing in these facilities.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine indicates that for every dollar a company invests in workplace health services (including onsite health centers), the return on investment ranges from $3 to $6 over two to five years. It's clear that investing in employee health is an excellent financial investment and a prudent business decision for most companies.

For those companies that have the resources and a genuine interest in providing the best possible health care services to their employees, the addition of an onsite employee health center is well worth the initial investment. The reality is, a healthy person is a happier, more productive employee and that benefits everyone in the workplace.

Todd Keller is president and chief executive officer of IMC HealthCare Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla.