Are Worksite Wellness Clinics Worth It?

emergency roomWould designating a specific worksite wellness clinic at a hospital do anything to reduce medical costs- especially if employees went there instead of the ER? One eight year study out of Johns Hopkins shows some evidence that they may be a more cost effective alternative to traditional ER visits. At least in my neck of the woods, ER visits are NOT cheap and if I were a large employer whose industry was dangerous enough that my employees were at a high risk of injury, I might take a close look at the benefits of these clinics.

Researchers studied the differences in ER visits between a hospital that had a worksite wellness clinic, (the Baltimore Johns Hopkins hospital) and one that didn’t (the Hopkins Bayview Medical Center) over eight years. They studied medical visits from employees of both hospitals. The worksite clinic did ask that employees pay for lab, v-ray, and pharmaceutical costs but otherwise services were free during the week. Most cases were not difficult cases to treat- commonly dealing with ear/nose/throat, respiratory, skin or urinary tract conditions.

Only 1.5 percent of the patients treated at the worksite wellness clinic were sent onto the ER for more treatment. The authors did note that maybe the existence of the (relatively) free clinic was an incentive for injured workers to come in for treatment anyway, and they don’t know how many would have gone to the ER on their own if they had not visited the clinic before and been recommended to go to the ER.

The authors think that the wellness facility had the greatest impact on the lowest paid workers like janitorial staff or maintenance workers, who may not have been able to afford ER visits for their injury. The hospital with the clinic saw almost twice the reduction in ER visits than the hospital without the clinic. They both saw reductions, and according to the authors, overall ER visits have decreased because of rising medical costs. But the workplace wellness clinic did seem to have a more significant impact on reducing ER visits, even if they both did ultimately decrease.

There were several other urgent care facilities within the vicinity of these two sites that employees of the sites may have used, which could play an unknown part in these results. The two hospitals were 2.6 miles apart so the authors say that if employees used outside clinics, there could have been a relatively even number of employees from either hospital who used them since the hospitals were in such close proximity to each other and the emergency clinics.

The study estimated a reduction in health care plan costs for those who worked where the wellness clinic is located. For those classified in the “high-user” clinic group, savings were estimated at $210 per person per year. For others who worked at that hospital savings were estimated at $40 per person per year. They are estimating that the cost of treatment at this clinic is about 10 percent of the cost of similar treatment at an emergency clinic or ER.


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