Report: growth in employer health clinics

A new report finds the number of employers with on-site health clinics continues to grow as companies seek ways to make employees more productive while they also attempt to take more control over their healthcare spending.

The findings, released in the “Worksite Medical Clinics 2012 Survey Report” from health and human resources consultant Mercer, show that in the past three years prevalence of on-site health clinics for employers with 5,000 or more employees increased from 32 percent of companies to 37 percent. In addition, another 15 percent of companies this size are considering adding their own health clinics in the next two years.

While the penetration isn’t quite as high for companies with 500 to 4,999 employees, the trend is the same: 15 percent currently have workplace clinics and another 11 percent plan to add them in 2013 or 2014. Taking both employer groups together, nearly one-in-three (30 percent) offer an on-site health clinic for their employees.

“Many human resources executives are implementing new clinics or beginning to expand their onsite clinic infrastructure to ensure that employees – and in some cases employees’ dependents – have access to quality healthcare,” the report noted. “Worksite clinics are evolving as employers adapt them to serve new purposes – for example, to provide a base for employee health management programs.”

But not all worksite clinics are the same. Occupational health clinics – those designed to address work-related injuries and health conditions – are offered by 26 percent of employers with more than 500 employees. But the field may be tipping in the direction of primary care clinics, the report noted, as more employers look for them to both help direct and encourage workplace wellness program participation as well as get a handle on primary care costs.

The healthcare industry and manufacturing sector are the most likely to have some form of employee clinic on site – 61 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

Among companies that have on-site clinics, the overwhelming reasons for having them are to reduce lost employee productivity (cited by 82 percent) and increase control over overall health spend (75 percent). Forty-seven percent of companies also said that the clinics are considered a benefit that can help with employee retention.

Management of the clinics is nearly equally split between them being run by company employees versus a third-party management company (43 percent and 38 percent, respectively). A much smaller group of employers use either a hospital system (8 percent) or provider group (5 percent).

While most employers don’t mandate that their employees use the on-site clinics, they do provide incentives for their use with 70 percent of companies saying they offer either no co-payments or reduced co-payments for primary care services at these clinics compared to those outside the company doors.

As Mercer sees it, while some may have envisioned a decrease in the prevalence of on-site employer healthcare as a result of health reform, they are seeing just the opposite.

“Far from spelling the end of worksite clinics, healthcare reform is fueling their growth. As employers are asked to cover more employees, providing cost-efficient care becomes more important than ever,” the report concluded. “Employers are finding that worksite clinics can control growth in health benefit cost even as they improve productivity by reducing employee time away from work. When integrated with a worksite wellness program, a clinic can also help create a culture of health in which employees are motivated to improve their health habits – perhaps the best of all possible ways to manage long-term healthcare spending.”