Employer interest in on-site health clinics is growing and research indicates the clinics can help lower employee absences, increase use of wellness programs and create a more engaged workforce. And a new study shows a drop in emergency room visits may be an added boon from on-site clinic use.

Employees at software analytics firm SAS were significantly more likely to need emergency department care or hospitalization compared to those employees who use the company’s on-site healthcare clinics for primary care, according to the company’s ongoing, multiphase trial of employee use of its on-site clinics. SAS, partnering with Duke University, recently published data from a Phase II study on the connection between on-site health care clinic and positive health outcomes.

Photo: SAS

“The research found that getting primary care at our healthcare center reduced the need for expensive emergency department visits and hospitalizations during the study period,” says Gale Adcock, chief health officer at SAS. “It’s clear our healthcare center makes a big difference to not only the health of SAS employees and families, but the financial health of SAS.”

Key findings of the new study show:

• Employees and dependents who did not use the clinic were significantly more likely to need emergency department care or hospitalization, compared with those using the HCC for primary care.

• Clinic users had fewer hospitalizations than nonusers.

• The number of emergency department visits was highest among non-clinic users.

But for many small employers who think only giant corporations might have the resources to establish on-site clinics, Adcock says smaller companies can include low-cost measures that will still give employees a leg up in maintaining healthy lifestyles.

“On-site health care is incredibly scalable,” she says. “Low-tech, low-cost services like health risk appraisals coupled with health education, tobacco cessation programs and breastfeeding and pumping rooms can have a significant impact on absenteeism and medical plan costs.”

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It’s clear our healthcare center makes a big difference to not only the health of SAS employees and families, but the financial health of SAS.

The Phase II study was recently published in INQUIRY: The Journal of Health Care Organization, Provision, and Financing and followed Phase I research released last year which found that clinic users saved SAS up to $600 each in health plan claims costs over three years.

“Excess use of emergency rooms and hospitals has been a longstanding problem in the American healthcare system,” says Chris Conover, Ph. D., research scholar at Duke’s Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research and one of the study’s authors. “This research demonstrates that worksite health centers offer a promising approach to addressing such overuse in a cost-effective fashion.”

And although the use of telehealth has been growing, it’s too soon to tell if it will have an effect on employers’ adoption of on-site clinics.

“Telehealth doesn’t appear to be driving use of on-site healthcare centers,” Adcock says, adding that “telehealth may prove to be most beneficial when access to healthcare is a community problem.”

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