Population health management puts workplace front and center

Heinz 57. Thirty-one flavors. Eleven herbs and spices. Formula 409. Onsite clinics.

Workplace-based healthcare facilities may seem out of place on this list, but they actually are comprised of a variety of ingredients, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

The array of onsite healthcare delivery models was clearly evident at a World Congress conference on the Business of Onsite Employee Health and Wellness Clinics that I attended recently in greater Chicago.

Over the years, utilization of onsite medical facilities at U.S. companies has waxed and waned. Just a few decades ago many onsite occupational health clinics and employee health departments were fully staffed by physicians and nurses. Then companies started to downsize. Medical staffs shrank and services were outsourced as employers attempted to control costs and concentrate on core competencies.

Now, with employers shifting their focus to population health management as a long-term business strategy, onsite services are experiencing somewhat of a Renaissance.

Onsite medical facilities that have routinely handled minor injuries, medical surveillance and employee health screening activities are expanding to include health promotion programs, behavioral health, travel medicine, primary care, pharmacy and chronic disease management services for employees and their dependents.

Employers are promoting this movement by embracing a culture of health. It is proving to be a cost-effective move. According to case studies, companies that do it right reduce absence. They can charge employees and their dependents little or nothing for primary care and still save money.

In another sign of the times, the National Association of Worksite Health Centers, a non-profit trade association, was launched last year by the Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH) in cooperation with La Penna Group to help employers maximize their investment in onsite health centers, pharmacies, fitness and wellness centers.

At the conference, Larry Boress, executive director of the association and CEO of MBGH, referred to a survey in which 30 percent of responding employers indicated they already have onsite health services and 12 percent said they plan to add them this year. Among those with onsite programs, 43 percent use internal and contract staff, 31 percent internal staff and 17 percent contracted staff. The remainder outsource to one or more vendors. In one hybrid model, company-sponsored clinics in industrial parks collectively serve workforce clusters.

All this is related to three key take-aways from the conference – the urgent need to support:

  • Vendor alignment
  • Service and data integration
  • Consumer engagement

Virtually everyone is striving for a better understanding of these critical concepts and associated ROI.

Look at it this way. When Suzie or Al visits a clinic complaining of back pain, they lug along an assortment of other concerns. Why not take that opportunity to ask: Have they had their flu shot? What are their health risks? Do they need to lose weight or stop smoking? Have they been feeling depressed? Are they pre-diabetic or hypertensive? Are they taking their prescribed medications? How many days were they absent from work last year? All these things are correlated.

Which reminds me of another thing I learned at the conference: It takes an average of 10 times to get an employee to pay attention to a single health-related message. There’s no time like the present to get started.

UL gives workforce health and safety professionals more of the tools they need to proactively address risks, reduce costs and keep people safe, healthy and on the job.