Workplace Clinics Are Expanding Focus Beyond Injuries, Preventive Care

On-site workplace clinics used to be primarily focused on patching up people who got injured on the job. Then companies added primary care and started emphasizing preventive screenings and other “wellness” services. Now, some big employers are beefing up their clinic offerings further with a host of add-ons, including physical therapy, dental and vision exams, mental health counseling and even acupuncture and massage.

Workplace Clinics Are Expanding Focus Beyond Injuries, Preventive Care

The new services may not always improve a company’s bottom line. But they’re a convenient perk for busy employees and can help maintain employee productivity by reducing absences. In addition, in competitive industries such as technology and financial services, such benefits can help retain employees and attract new ones, experts say.

In 2011, 31 percent of employers with 500 or more workers had on-site clinics, and another 9 percent said they were considering them, according to the annual survey of employer health plans by human resources consultant Mercer.

“It’s a matter of providing enhanced access and making it easier for workers to get enhanced services,” says Bruce Hochstadt, a Mercer consultant.

When Linda Wolohan’s doctor prescribed physical therapy last December to treat a bulging disk in her back, she opted to use a physical therapist at the Valley Forge, Pa., headquarters of her employer, Vanguard, rather than one near her home an hour away.

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Workplace Clinics Are Expanding Focus Beyond Injuries, Preventive Care

“It was convenient,” says Wolohan, 54, who works in the mutual fund company’s public relations department. “Getting to a physical therapist near home was hard to schedule.”

Wolohan paid $10 a session, a slightly lower co-payment than if she had used a physical therapist in the community.

Obstetrics And Dentistry

Like most companies that provide on-site clinics, Vanguard is self-insured, meaning the company pays its employees’ health-care claims directly. Given the high volume of employee physical therapy claims, it made sense financially to provide the service in-house, says Julie Clark, who oversees the clinic, the company gym and other wellness services.

The company has three part-time physical therapists at the clinic, which opened last year. The clinic staff, which also includes a doctor, a nurse practitioner and a couple of nurses, is employed by CHS Health Services, a Reston, Va.-based company that staffs and runs 115 on-site health clinics in 32 states.

Employees’ costs vary. Some employers provide clinic services free. Discounted co-payments such as the one Wolohan paid are common, experts say. “They want to encourage employees to take advantage of the services on-site,” says Ed McNamara, vice president of sales and marketing at CHS. “It’s a productivity savings and an employee-benefit savings.”

Workers at American Express facilities in Phoenix and Salt Lake City have access to dental services at a van that parks at each of the facilities. In addition to dental exams and cleanings, employees can get fillings and crowns, among other treatments. Services are free for employees enrolled in the company dental plan.

American Express varies the on-site services it offers based on employee needs, says David Kasiarz, senior vice president for global compensation and benefits. The company may provide an OB/GYN at a call center with a mostly female workforce, for example, or a dermatologist in Florida and Phoenix, where skin cancer is more common than in other areas.

On the coasts, especially in Silicon Valley and Southern California, a growing number of companies have added acupuncture, massage therapy and chiropractic services to their clinic offerings, experts say.

“The companies that tend to do it see it as a retention tool,” says Ha Tu, a senior researcher at the Center for Studying Health System Change, who co-authored a study about workplace clinics. “They’re perks, as opposed to offering massage therapy, for example, and expecting direct payoff.”

Mental Health Care

Employers are also paying more attention to mental health issues. Some are adding services at their on-site clinics. In other cases, they’re linking the employee assistance program, which provides short-term counseling and mental health referrals, with the clinics, says Julie Stone, a senior consultant with benefits consultant Towers Watson.

Services can take many forms. At Prudential Financial, health-care providers at the company’s eight clinics began noticing employee stress from the financial crisis and recession a few years ago. So the company made budget coaches available by phone.

“The financial situation was affecting their health,” says Myrtho Montes, who manages all the company’s on-site health programs.