To improve access to high-quality primary care and reduce health plan spending, companies are turning to the employer Network health center model. Located in popular shopping districts where employees and their families live, work and shop, the centers are easily accessible and help employees and their families prioritize their health and wellness.

When LaShaunda Abili discovered her A1c level was in the pre-diabetic range through her annual biometric screening, she knew she had to make a change, and scheduled a visit to her Marathon Health Network Health Center offered through her employer, Mecklenburg County.

“I didn’t want to develop diabetes,” she says. “I met with Family Nurse Practitioner Sabrina McCluskey, who helped me understand the cause. I joined a weight loss program and scheduled follow-up visits to monitor my progress.”

By getting annual physicals employees can proactively manage their health, like LaShaunda. Unfortunately, the number of adults in the United States with access to primary care has decreased over the past decade. And, healthcare spending for chronic health conditions has been on the rise. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 90% of the nation’s $3.8 trillion in annual healthcare expenditures are for people with chronic health conditions.

One of the ways employers can help bring this cost down is by encouraging employees to regularly engage with primary care, and that’s where the employer-sponsored Network health model comes into play.

Employer Network Health Centers Offer Convenience

Network health centers are a great option for employers with a smaller or highly distributed workforce. Onsite health centers require 1,500 to 5,000 or more square feet and upfront build out costs from the employer. But Network locations are turn-key – all you have to provide is an eligibility file and your employees and their families have access to high-quality care within 10 minutes of home, work or play. So an employee may choose to visit a Network health center near their job while their spouse can visit another Network location closer to home.

The Network model is often confused with the Near-site model, with many in the industry using the words interchangeably. But they are not synonyms. There are two big differences. First, employers who choose the Network model do not have to worry about a shared governance structure like they do with a Near-site health center. Near-site partnerships are often shared between two or more employers, and if one of those employers decides to leave the partnership, the other employer is faced with increasing costs, reduced service or the burden of finding another employer to fill the gap.

In the Marathon Health Network model, employers have zero dependencies on other employers who buy into the Network. Marathon Health will add services, care team staff, locations or hours to ensure that patients have a good selection as employers come in and out of the model.

The second difference between Near-site and Network health centers is the number of locations. Near-sites typically have one or two locations. The Marathon Health Network adds locations in step with the growing employee populations to be within a 10-minute drive of 90% of the workforce and their families.

Giving employees increased accessibility to healthcare encourages regular visits with a primary care team. Making care more convenient prevents employees from delaying or canceling appointments when they have a conflict. Additionally, their dependents covered by their health benefits are more likely to take advantage of care when it’s closer to where they live or are running errands.

Another great feature of the Network is provider choice. Typically with an onsite health center there is just one dedicated provider who may or may not meet the needs of the majority of the population. But Network centers have three to seven locations around town which means three to seven providers (or more) to choose from. Maybe employee A prefers a female provider, while employee B prefers male. Or employee A would like to see someone from their own race or culture. The Network model can better accommodate those preferences.

Employer Network health centers also feature extended hours, including evenings and weekends, so employees don’t have to worry about taking a day off work to see their practitioner. “Our team will help employees find an appointment time that accommodates their schedule,” says Chad Ashcraft, Executive Vice President of Growth for Marathon Health. “We want to make it easy for a teacher, for example, to come in after school and get a biometric screening. If they do have to reschedule, it won’t take them several weeks to get back in, which can be common at traditional doctor offices because they are often overbooked.”

Network health centers also often offer health coaches, behavioral health specialists and physical therapists so employees have access to a comprehensive healthcare team in one location. Some locations also dispense medications onsite to prevent employees from making an additional trip to the pharmacy. And, members have access to care navigation referral specialists who can help schedule visits to high-quality doctors or specialists around town, or help answer questions regarding healthcare benefits.

The Network model also provides patients with a variety of options when it comes to selecting a provider, along with services, empowering them with more choices.

Types of Services Available at Employer Network Health Centers

  • Full scope of preventive care and acute sick care (both in-person and virtual)
  • Chronic condition management
  • Annual physicals and wellness screens
  • Lab services and diagnostic tests
  • Medication dispensing (onsite and home delivery)
  • Behavioral health counseling (both in-person and virtual)
  • Health coaching (both in-person and virtual)
  • Care navigation
  • Occupational health services
  • Physical Therapy
  • And more

A Focus on Patient Experience

In the traditional primary care model, employees often feel rushed during an appointment when their practitioner has an office full of patients. “In a traditional primary healthcare setting physicians often see three to four patients in an hour so it’s hard to develop a relationship with the patient and build continuity,” Ashcraft says.

The Network employer health model offers employees longer appointment times averaging 45 minutes.  Patients have additional time with their practitioner to discuss any concerns they have regarding their health, which can result in a more comprehensive examination.

LaShaunda says her care team helped to motivate her in her efforts to get healthy. “By understanding food, and how the body transforms some foods into sugar, I was able to lose 30 pounds and lower my A1c. Sabrina empowered me to make realistic health changes and praised my efforts.”

Rather than visit her primary care provider for her annual physical, LaShaunda says she now goes to the Network health center because she likes her care team so much. “I don’t feel like another number,” she says. “I feel like a normal person with important needs. My Marathon Health practitioner cares about me and my overall well-being. They are pleasant, and take the time to listen and have a conversation.”

Creating Better Outcomes Through The Employer Network Health Center Model

When employees regularly engage with a primary healthcare team, they can build stronger relationships with their providers resulting in more discussions about how they can be proactive in managing their health while also identifying issues before they become more serious.

Karen Mueller, CBC, Executive Vice President & Partner for HORAN, says that engagement from employees with chronic health conditions is critical in driving better health outcomes and lowering healthcare costs for everyone. “When employees with chronic conditions can effectively manage their health, it not only improves their quality of life but also helps them save money by avoiding trips to the emergency room and reducing the number of medications they need to take.”

Cost Savings for Employers with Network Health Centers

Employers benefit financially from the Network model by not having to worry about the investment associated with the construction of an onsite center. “Since Marathon Health funds the buildouts and building leases, employers don’t have to worry about taking on those additional costs. This opens the door for employers of medium and small-sized businesses to also have access to these services for their employees.”

Network centers allow employers to share costs without sacrificing the quality of care their members are receiving. Businesses can also save money by utilizing the additional resources provided at the health centers such as behavioral health services and reducing the need of providing those services through supplemental programs.

By focusing on accessibility and sharing costs between employers, Network centers can improve employees’ lives while still providing employers with a cost-effective healthcare solution.

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