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health care at the work place

The Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday examined how workplace-based health care centers are “quickly gaining popularity among large employers around the country” who consider them “an attractive perk for employees, but also a way to increase worker productivity and hold down health costs by treating problems early and efficiently.” According to the Inquirer, businesses and manufacturers “historically had doctors or nurses around to treat injuries or give drug tests,” but they increasingly are adopting “a new template that offers work-site primary care plus preventive services such as vaccines, health screenings and weight-loss counseling.”

Watson Wyatt Worldwide and the National Business Group on Health this year released a survey that found the percentage of large companies that had an employee health care center on-site or were scheduled to open a center next year increased from 27% in 2006 to 29% in 2008. According to the Inquirer, the survey did not include analyses of the costs for the centers on their businesses but the companies that already had centers said they mainly were focused mainly on enhancing productivity and generating savings. The centers’ operators reported that employees spend less time away from work because of illnesses or physician appointments. In addition, the companies were able to save money through preventive measures, resulting in fewer visits to hospitals for emergency care.

According to the Inquirer, a “downside” of on-site health centers is potential breaches of privacy, through which bosses could discover employees’ “infirmities or unhealthy lifestyle.” In response, some companies have hired outside firms, which must uphold the same privacy regulations as any other health provider, to alleviate those concerns.

Lale Iskarpatyoti, group and health care practice leader for Watson Wyatt, said that the number of on-site employee health centers has increased in the last four or five years as a way to reduce expenses because 40% to 50% of medical costs are linked to preventable conditions. Iskarpatyoti said on-site clinics are effective for businesses with as few as 500 employees but typically serve companies with at least 1,000 workers. Iskarpatyoti added that companies must have at least 2,500 to 5,000 employees to justify an on-site pharmacy.

Edward Bernacki, head of the Johns Hopkins’ Division for Occupational Health — which manages about 50 clinics staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants at large U.S. companies — said, “It’s a great way to deliver medicine, particularly preventive medicine,” adding, “Every day we’re getting calls from other multinational companies that see an on-site clinic as a way to offset some of their health costs”