From the March 2009 issue of Treasury & Risk magazine

Docs Back In-House

Concerned about rising health care costs, more large employers are reconsidering a once-spurned solution: offering employees access to company-sponsored clinics. That's according to a recent study by Mercer, the New York City-based human resources consulting firm. The survey found that 13% of companies with more than 500 employees offer primary care services. While Mercer doesn't have historical data, it's a significant increase from just a few years ago, says Bruce Hochstadt, a principal at the company. An additional 10% are considering offering such care over the next two years.

This new generation of clinics offers a broad scope of services, ranging from screenings and immunizations to X-rays and pharmacies. While some are on-site, many others are at nearby locations and may be shared by two or more employers in close proximity to one another. Industries most likely to offer primary-care clinics include health care (34%) and government (13%).

In addition to seeing these clinics as a way to control health care costs, employers also cite the ability to provide improved access to preventive care and to encourage employees to make better use of health/wellness programs as major objectives.

While the economic downturn may affect future plans, Hochstadt says, that's likely to be a passing phase. "These efforts might plateau, but that will be temporary," says Hochstadt. "These clinics provide significant savings over time."

And those clinics may be needed a lot more than many companies think, according to another survey, from OfficeTeam, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing firm. It found that while more than 45% of professionals surveyed reported they "very frequently" go to the office when sick, only 17% of managers polled felt the practice was that common. About 30% of employees said they come to work sick "somewhat frequently"; 57% of managers thought that was true.

Why the discrepancy? For one thing, managers may often come into work sick, themselves. And, they may not know what's going on. "People don't always talk about it when they're sick," says Brandi Britton, OfficeTeam's regional vice president.

In the current economy, however employees who are fearful for their jobs might be even less likely to stay home or talk about their condition. And, ultimately, according to Britton, the trend could lead to an increase in "presenteeism," a situation in which ill employees work less-efficiently than usual, costing companies millions of dollars in lost productivity. Says Britton: "It's often better to have one person home sick than a few ill employees in the office under-performing."

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