First published in American City Business Journals (in Boston, Silicon Valley, Jacksonville, Nashville, San Jose and elsewhere.)
Onsite health clinics are new territory for most employers. It can be difficult to sort through the different approaches used by different vendors. Worse, in difficult economic times it’s tempting to “get in” as cheaply as possible.But like many purchases, you may get what you pay for with clinics, especially if you scrimp. Here are three reasons to favor value over price when considering an onsite clinic vendor:
- An investment. Most employers believe their health plan expenditures are high enough already. For them, a clinic represents an additional expense, and only makes sense if it can provide a return on investment that lowers overall group health and occupational health costs. Ask vendors for data and testimonials that their clinics save money and improve the quality of care.
- Many impacts. Properly configured, clinics do far more than reduce costs for office visits, drugs and lab tests. They can positively impact the chronic diseases that consume two-thirds of a health plan’s costs. They can influence specialty and inpatient care, which the Dartmouth Atlas shows have the highest concentrations of waste. And they can affect the five major areas of occupational health — workers’ compensation primary care, disability management, human resources testing (pre-employment screens, drug screens, Department of Transportation exams), retention/recruitment and lost work time — that, together, cost two to three times as much as a group health premium.
- Total effectiveness results from a clinic’s component medical management mechanisms. Optimizing quality and cost within the complexity of health care requires assembling an array of tools and programs, each targeted to a specific health care problem. Each approach has dedicated costs, but most also produce savings that outweigh their expenses.
For example, incentives such as free office visits, laboratory tests and free standard drugs, mostly low-cost generics, induce employees to use the clinic and help the primary care staff gain more control over the care process. Physicians cost more than nurse practitioners, but are more likely to create a fully realized medical home and have a better chance of influencing downstream care.
Clinical analysis and decision support tools help identify patients with health risks or gaps in care that deserve attention. Onsite, face-to-face disease management programs have a far better chance of influencing chronic disease costs than call center programs.
Modern clinics are a powerful innovation in an employer’s benefits arsenal. But they must be robust to be effective, integrating a variety of proven mechanisms. With those properly in place, the results can be quantifiable improvements in health care quality, cost and employee morale.
In other words, a clinic’s cost may be important. But the value — the benefit you receive for the cost — should be the reason you implement a clinic. It will certainly be how you’ll judge your investment.