Do Onsite Health Services Pay Off?

By Nighswonger, Todd | Occupational Hazards, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Do Onsite Health Services Pay Off?


Nighswonger, Todd, Occupational Hazards


While not for every situation, worksite health services are helping many companies keep employees healthy and productive -- and saving money in the bargain.

Successful company executives who seek ways to improve the bottom line realize that employee performance is a vital component of profitability, but how do you keep employees operating at their peak every day?

Occupational health experts contend that one of the best ways to improve worker health and productivity is with onsite health services. Providing these services -- whether they be medical case management, clinical treatments or preventive measures -- to employees can be expensive, they say, but will pay off in many ways.

"All the studies I've seen show that onsite programs are very cost-efficient and will save companies money," says Wayne N. Burton, M.D., corporate medical director for Bank One in Chicago.

Dr. Burton co-authored one such study in 1999 for the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine on the role of health risk factors and disease in worker productivity. The study revealed that not only do onsite health services reduce direct health care costs such as medical claims, but also indirect costs such as time lost to worker absenteeism and disability.

An international corporation found out just how much the bottom line can be impacted by onsite health services. According to the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN), the company saved $750,000 over five years by opening a nurse practitioner clinic to address accidental injuries.

Another benefit is how employees feel about their employers and their jobs. Studies have shown that workplace programs incorporating health promotion, which often address nonoccupational health care, help employees detect health problems earlier, decrease absenteeism, lower turnover, increase productivity and improve morale.

"It gives employees a really good sense of well-being when they know that somebody cares about what they are doing and about their health," says Beverley Tobias, MBA, RN, COHN-S, director of environmental, health and safety for Solectron, an electronics assembler in Milpitas, Calif. Tobias is a past board member of AAOHN.

Counting the Cost

If providing onsite health services seems to be a no-brainer, why don't all companies offer these services in their facilities? Companies must consider many factors before providing onsite health services: size of the company or facility, types of workplace hazards and proximity to outside health care, to name a few. Then there is the cost factor of hiring staff, possibly for multiple shifts, and equipping a clinic.

One of the biggest factors in determining whether to have onsite health services is the size of the facility, according to Carl Zenz, M.D., corporate medical director for UOP in Des Plaines, Ill. At a manufacturing site, for example, generally at least 200 employees are needed to justify an onsite nurse and several thousand workers to warrant a doctor. At smaller facilities, such as those with less than 200 workers, a consultant, a contracted medical provider or shared services are the likely modes for providing worksite health care.

Companies also must factor in whether there will be onsite health services for all shifts, says Zenz, who is on call around the clock. UOP, which develops technology and products for the oil refining and petrochemical industries, offers clinical services during the first shift, but uses emergency response teams for immediate healthcare needs during the second and third shifts.

Some companies choose not to provide any type of occupational health services, even when there is a need or when these types of services are required by governmental regulations.

"A lot of it is has to do with the knowledge base of the employer," says Bonnie Rogers, Ph.D., COHN-S, director of the occupational health nursing program at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. …

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