- More and more patients who spend the majority of their waking hours at the office are getting access to primary care services and population health management programs without straying too far from the break room, says a new survey by Towers Watson, as close to 40 percent of employers indicate plans to expand their onsite healthcare facilities in the next two years.
In an effort to create happier, healthier workers while reducing the skyrocketing costs of chronic disease management and health insurance premiums, business owners are increasingly recognizing the critical role they can play in bringing wellness into the daily routines of their employees.
“For employers with a critical mass of employees in one or more locations, onsite and near-site health centers can be an integral component of a high-performance health care program,” said Dr. Bruce Hochstadt, senior consultant at Towers Watson.
“Encouraged by their experience to date, many employers with these centers believe providing convenient access to health services increases employee productivity by reducing time away from work. What’s more, many are ready to increase their investment.”
On top of the list of priorities for the 120 large employers participating in the survey were the potential for increased productivity and lower healthcare costs. Three-quarters of respondents believed that integrating primary care and population health management into their healthcare offerings could produce these results, while 66 percent added that they are interested in increasing the convenience factor for their employees by making it easier to access basic services.
Like the growing number of retail clinics located in pharmacy chains and grocery stores, nearly all employer clinics already offer routine immunizations and treatment for common low-grade acute conditions like respiratory infections and urinary tract infections, the survey added. Wellness programs are available at 86 percent of healthcare centers, and nearly two-thirds offer lifestyle coaching that can help enact behavioral changes such as smoking cessation, a healthier diet, or getting more exercise.
But 66 percent of employers hope to expand their capabilities beyond this baseline level by 2018, continuing an ongoing trend. While just 38 percent of employer healthcare centers offered pharmacy services in 2012, that number has increased by 12 percent over the past three years. “Pharmacy services interest employers because they offer convenient access to prescription drugs for employees, encourage medication compliance and help decrease overall medical and pharmacy spend,” said Dr. Allan Khoury, senior consultant at Towers Watson.
And for patients who might experience a health problem outside of normal office hours, employers are banking on telemedicine to keep utilization costs low. Thirty-five percent currently offer telehealth services to their employees, while another 12 percent are planning to implement the strategy soon.
“Telemedicine and onsite health centers are perfect complements,” Khoury added. “They help employers make it easy for employees and other eligible members to see a doctor and get informed medical expertise — even on evenings and weekends. They also support an overall employer strategy of keeping workers productive and eliminating wasteful costs such as unnecessary emergency room visits.”
Employer-sponsored healthcare centers are more likely to attract patients with higher risk profiles for chronic diseases, Towers Watson believes, which may contribute to a higher return on investment by reducing costs related to urgent care or emergency department use. Employers may also be able to foster greater care coordination and the use of cheaper, in-network specialty physicians by using their health centers to ensure that patients are being referred to providers and partners within their preferred circle.