Dedicated employee health centers are gaining popularity. We explore if employees will actually use the health centers and how to increase engagement.
A robust list of benefits on a job listing attracts applicants, which becomes increasingly important as labor shortages continue to impact many industries. But each of those benefits comes with a real cost, and add up to, on average, 31% of total employer compensation costs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Amounting to nearly a third of labor overhead, employers want to ensure employees will utilize their benefit offerings.
One benefit that has gained ground are dedicated employee health centers in or near the workplace. According to a recent Worksite Health Centers survey report, the prevalence of U.S. employers with 5,000+ employees offering primary care clinics rose from 20% to 31% between 2010 and 2021.
But do employees actually use those health centers? And what does it take to create a successful health center that encourages employee engagement?
Reasons Employees Visit Dedicated Health Centers
Marathon Health data indicates that employees use and value their employer-sponsored healthcare clinics. The numbers show:
- 94% member satisfaction of health care centers
- 67% of engaged members use Marathon Health as their primary care provider
- 65% of engaged member visits are preventive
- 59% of high-risk members make improvements on quality measures
- 31% health care cost decrease for members with a high risk or chronic condition
These engagement rates are due to a number of factors, including convenience, affordability and dedicated care teams.
Whether barriers to receiving care include transportation or time, a dedicated health center at the worksite provides convenience and helps employees overcome those hurdles. “Offering a health center gives our members convenient, affordable access to top-level care,” says Joe Deba, Senior Associate Plan Administrator for CEBT. “A lot of our members are in rural areas and may not even have a primary care relationship. For a lot of them, it starts out as a way to get a foot in the door and reconnect with their health, which they’ve maybe been ignoring or postponing.”
Tracie Lopez, HR Manager at Urschel, a machinery manufacturing company, notes an 82% employee engagement rate with their health center. “You can leave work, get a prescription, and get back to work within an hour,” Lopez says. “Where else is that possible? Typically, you’re waiting in a doctor’s office for up to an hour before you even start the appointment.”
Convenience also opens the door to better provider-patient relationships and allows members to engage with health center services as much as needed.
When a patient recently came in for routine lab work and presented with a dangerously high A1c of 13 — indicating Type 2 diabetes — Linnea Ritter, Family Nurse Practitioner and Health Coach at Cretex Companies, took her time to give the patient multiple options for treatment. Ultimately, the patient chose lifestyle modifications over medicine, and Ritter agreed so long as he came back weekly for lab monitoring.
“We brought him back weekly for blood sugar checks, and he was consistently bringing those numbers down,” Ritter says. “He lost about 60 pounds and got himself into the normal range on all metrics — with only lifestyle changes over a six-month timeframe.”
According to polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost half of U.S. adults report having difficulty affording healthcare costs, and four in 10 report delaying medical care due to cost.
In a direct healthcare model, employees gain exclusive access to primary care, chronic condition management, health coaching and behavioral health services for little to no cost. They also benefit from high-value referrals that leverage industry data to give employees the best services at the lowest cost.
“In a traditional model, if I have diabetes or hypertension, I’m going to be referred to a variety of specialists,” says Dominic Franchini, Vice President and Partner at HORAN, an employee benefits consulting firm. “I’m probably going to be over-tested and over-referred for care that could be managed by a high-quality primary care team at a lower cost.”
Dedicated care teams
The traditional healthcare market operates on a fee-for-service model, in which providers are incentivized to see as many patients as possible. Operating within an advanced primary care model means providers spend more time with their patients and focus on health outcomes versus the quantity of patients seen.
“In an urgent care setting, I saw 48 patients a day. That’s just unhealthy and unsafe,” says Steve Toth, Physician Assistant and City of Fort Collins Marathon Health Clinic Director. “You have to have time to build your credibility with the patient to make a connection. And that connection is key to having them succeed.”
When providers forge meaningful provider-patient relationships, members feel valued and are more likely to return to the health center. “Our clinic calls employees they haven’t seen in a while,” Lopez says. “That doesn’t really happen with traditional doctors’ offices.”
How to Encourage Employee Engagement with a Health Center
Of course, whether your employees utilize their benefits comes down to awareness and engagement. Do they know what’s available to them, and is your company encouraging use?
“When I explain what Marathon Health is as a new benefit for employees coming on, they’re like, ‘Wow, I’ve never heard of such a thing,’ Lopez says. “We also pay our employees when they go to the doctor – they don’t have to take off work – which is a huge added benefit.”
Encouraging employees to visit their health centers on company time is a best practice. It increases engagement, and it’s a better use of time than visiting another clinic, due to the convenience and location of the health center.
Employer-sponsored health centers are still a novel benefit, and many employers offer incentives to encourage their employees to visit the center, establish a relationship with their care team and take charge of their health.
“We offer a free day off,” Lopez says. “Employees earn points for different participation activities. A biometric screening is 20 points, a dental cleaning is another 20 points, and so on. Once they hit 100 points, they get a day off.”
Because employer-sponsored care is new to many employees, they often have concerns about privacy. As a best practice, it’s important to reiterate to employees that any healthcare provider is bound by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), a federal law that protects each patient’s health information from being disclosed.
You can also utilize surveys to see how employees perceive the program and why or why not they visit the health center. Adjust offerings accordingly, and note that it may take time to ramp up engagement numbers.
“As you’re building up momentum, you don’t need to have 100% engagement among your workforce to justify a dedicated health center,” says Shannon Isom, Sr. Director of Engagement at Marathon Health. “Twenty percent of claimants drive health care costs for an organization, so getting 60% of that 20% makes a difference. Once people can wrap their mind around that kind of math, it starts to unlock an understanding of how offering a dedicated health center plays out in an accretive way for the business.”
Urschel’s CFO Dan Marchetti recommends employers find an advanced primary care partner who will help them promote the health center. “Marketing the program to your employees helps them understand the benefit they get out of it,” he says. “Get with your provider and ask them for some marketing materials. You need to partner with your provider on that engagement. You can’t do it alone, and neither can they.”