Also known as worksite or onsite clinics, workplace clinics are becoming very popular amongst employers (particularly large or self-funded firms) seeking to control rising health care costs and promote employee wellness throughout their organizations. As of 2014, according to a survey by global consulting firm Mercer, 29% of US companies with at least 5,000 employees managed some form of onsite or near-site clinic offering primary care services. And this percentage is only expected to increase as the onsite clinic model becomes more refined and more easily adaptable to a wide variety of workplaces.
In considering the burgeoning popularity of worksite clinics, what’s especially interesting to note is that these health facilities not only bring benefits to the employers and employees who directly operate and use them, but they are also having a positive overall impact on our health care system as a whole. Read on to learn about four of the most important benefits that workplace clinics are bringing to American health care.
Improved overall access to health care
Onsite clinics bring value to employers and employees alike by removing many of the physical and logistical barriers that make it difficult for employees to seek care or treatment when they need it. The typical obstacles, such as having to travel long distances, waiting for long periods, and needing to take time off from work, associated with conventional care facilities, like hospitals or walk-in clinics, can lead to a patient deciding that it’s too complicated or not worth the effort to seek medical help for a problem that is not obviously serious.
In contrast, workplace clinics, with their convenient on-site access and accurate appointment times, remove many of these challenges. This also indirectly improves access to care for other consumers in the health care system: as worksite clinics essentially remove their members from the broader fee-for-service system, they create more system-wide availability. The result is that other patients that the system previously did not have room for are now free to move into the spots vacated by these new workplace clinic participants. In other words, by removing access barriers for its own members, worksite clinics reduce the strain on the traditional system, thus helping to create better access for all.
Incentive for more primary care physicians
Another major challenge currently facing our health care system is the critical shortage of primary care doctors. A recent study from the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that by 2025, the US could be confronting a shortage of between 61,700 and 94,700 physicians, of which one-quarter to more than one-third (or 14,900 to 35,600) will be primary care physicians. While there are many different reasons for such a shortage, a number of them have to do with the current reality of working as a primary care doctor in the traditional care system. As lower pay, longer hours, and uneven bonus structures have become more commonplace, medical students have found the prospect of such an unrewarding conclusion to their years of challenging studies to be increasingly unappealing.
Workplace clinics are helping to change this by creating work environments that are highly desirable for primary care physicians. Thanks to their flexible structures and lack of legacy systems or hierarchies, onsite clinics are better able to offer longer and more in-depth appointments, competitive salaries, fixed schedules, and other financial incentives for defined health outcomes. These and other benefits could lead to a resurgence of interest in primary care medicine at the medical school level, and consequently a less serious physician shortage.
Reduced costs through decreased demand
Today’s escalating health care costs cannot be blamed on any one factor alone, but one of the major contributors in recent years has certainly been increased consumer demand. Ever more distanced from the true cost of care, patients have been eschewing preventive care and focusing on treatments and therapies for years; and as the law of supply and demand dictates, the more people want something, the more it will cost.
Once again, workplace clinics are helping address this issue by boosting the supply side of the equation and relieving strain on the existing system. As companies launch more and more worksite clinics, the supply of care will align more with demand. The hope then is that this more balanced scenario will lead to a much-needed price correction.
Better health outcomes
One of the most holistic benefits that onsite clinics can bring to our health care system is also the simplest: a healthier population. In the health care industry, it’s widely accepted that providing better access to care is one of the most important ways to achieve better care, full stop. More accessible care is better care, and better care means healthier people with a greater understanding of what wellness is and more tools and knowledge to get well and stay well. Thus, by making it easy for employees stay healthy, worksite clinics are more broadly improving the general state of health for our entire population.