The number one reason people don’t visit a doctor when they’re sick is because they don’t want to miss work, says Dr. Stephen Hamersky, VP of health services at American Express. So his company, like 100 of the 1,000 largest American employers, brought the doctors to work.
On-site clinics are less common than they were a few decades ago, when the company doctor was as much a fixture as the school nurse. But the high cost of health care—and the trend toward focusing on prevention and wellness as ways to lower those costs—is bringing them back into vogue.
Firms like Nissan, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Harrah’s offer varying levels of on-site care to employees who need allergy shots, have the sniffles, get hurt on the job or are dealing with chronic illnesses. On-site clinics help employers intervene in workers’ health problems early in the game, which cuts down on specialty and emergency-room care.
The growth of on-site clinics was a hot topic at the recent Institute for Health and Productivity ’s annual conference.
Sound out of reach for your organization? Maybe not. The American Association of Occupational Health Nurses estimates that companies with as few as 200 employees can benefit from having a part-time nurse on staff or contracting with a nurse for a few hours each week.
More small businesses are also offering preventive health screenings or even banding together with other small firms and associations to offer employees part-time nursing care.
Kay Curling, director of work/life solutions at SRA International based in Fairfax, Va., calculates that her 2,100-employee tech firm saves $3.50 for every dollar it spends on its small clinic and three nurses. The dollars are saved with fewer sick days and health care claims, earlier return to work in disability cases and the discounts the nurses have negotiated with providers.
Plus, says AmEx’s Hamersky, if it weren’t for the on-site clinic, many employees wouldn’t seek treatment at all.
That point is key: Employees who are coming down with the flu or feel the onset of a migraine recover more quickly if they take medicine, doctors say. So they miss less work and feel better while they’re on the clock.
And clinic nurses can teach patients how to prevent problems while they screen mammograms and conduct blood pressure checks, which lower health care costs for participants even more.