How to create an on-site health center employees will love

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It’s Monday morning and Anne, a software engineer at a large technology company, is sitting at her computer when she begins to feel crampy and feverish. Her schedule for the day is packed, but she knows she needs to see a doctor right away.

Luckily for Anne, her company offers on-site healthcare. She’s able to walk down the hall and, within a few minutes, get diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. She’s also able to pick up her medication right away at the pharmacy and be back at her desk within 30 minutes, feeling relieved.

Thousands of companies across the country have built on-site primary care clinics like the one at Anne’s office, and if you’re reading this article, you might be considering one too. Maybe you’re intrigued by the idea of offering comprehensive care and boosting employee wellness, or you’re attracted to the increased productivity and cost savings that on-site access can provide. Perhaps your company is competing fiercely for talent, and you’re looking for an additional perk to offer to potential employees.

And yet, many large companies are still hesitant to take the plunge into on-site care, and understandably so: it’s a costly and often complex proposition. But when I talk to HR executives about on-site care, what keeps them up at night isn’t so much the cost of the center or the complexity of the implementation. It’s the uncertainty around the center’s success – will employees actually use it?

Let’s think about what drives an employee’s decision to use their company’s on-site health center instead of going to a local doctor in the community.

Perhaps the most important consideration is trust – both in the quality and confidentiality of the experience. Is the on-site doctor any good? Is the physician my doctor or the “company” doctor? Can I trust them with sensitive information like substance abuse or depression?

Scope of services is also critical. The company physician can handle strep throat, but can she also do pap tests and help me manage hypertension?

And of course, there’s the question of convenience. Is it easy to make appointments and follow up with my doctor? Can my family see them too? If I leave the company, will I have to start over again?

How you address these questions will have a major impact on your center’s utilization. So if you’re thinking about on-site care, make sure you design it from the start with the employee at the center of the experience.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Use high-quality providers. Quality matters a lot when it comes to medical care, which is why so many people research doctors on Yelp, or ask a friend who they would recommend.

But for employers, it can sometimes be hard to attract top medical talent, because the things that are important to physicians — like serving a broader community or opportunities to learn and grow — are hard to provide independently.

No matter how you staff your center, be rigorous about vetting providers’ expertise and quality of care. If you do partner with a third party, look for objective metrics that demonstrate a consistent ability to attract great providers.

2. Design a customer-centric experience. Just as the quality of your providers matters, so too does the quality of the experience when your employees come to the center. Design a program with your “customers” needs in mind.

Start by thinking about how employees will move through the entire process everything from making an appointment to the provider interaction itself. Throw out any preconceived notions about how it’s supposed to work in medical care. Ask yourself “how would I like this part of the process to be, as a patient?” Would you prefer the provider come get you in the waiting room, instead of having to wait in an exam room? Would you like to be able to make appointments online?

Aesthetic design can also contribute to making your center a high-quality experience. Use upgraded materials. Find ways to remove sterile items from view. Small design touches like these can make a big difference in having your center feel warm and inviting, particularly since the bar is set so low for medical environments.

And while the on-site health center should seem like an extension of your facilities, its design should also be different enough to reflect the center’s independence from the company.

3. Address privacy concerns. That sense of independence is crucial to your center’s success, because employees must feel comfortable sharing sensitive information about their health with your on-site providers, about everything from hereditary conditions to addiction issues and mental health concerns. For this reason, organizations should partner with a HIPAA-compliant third party to provide practitioners who are independent of the company.

Make sure your on-site partner also has direct patient-facing options for getting in contact (via phone and email) so that employees never have to go through their employer to reach the clinic. Encourage employees to use their personal email addresses for correspondence relating to their health concerns. Consider running your on-site center’s phone and internet communications via an independent network.

4. Get with the 21st century and use technology. Successful on-site programs deliver the high level of service people expect in an on-demand economy. This includes being tech-enabled, with mobile and digital tools, such as app-based appointment capabilities, access to online health records, and 24/7 virtual care.

Technology can also empower your employees’ experience around wellness. Consider integrating additional technology to further enhance their ability to stay healthy, such as mobile apps that allow them to track their health and fitness. Tech-forward tools that encourage employees to actively pursue their own wellness will mean healthier employees, enhanced productivity and less work missed due to illness.

5. Help employees get care beyond the basics. There’s a limit to what you can provide on-site, so make sure your on-site center is also connected into a broader primary care network to manage more complex issues, as well as to give your employees and their families the option of receiving continuous coordinated care closer to home, which will help you avoid unnecessary ER and urgent care visits.

You might also consider expanding your services beyond basic primary care: according to Towers Watson, 77% of on-site care facilities are managing chronic conditions, and 86% offer lifestyle and wellness programs.

The success of your on-site clinic depends upon the extent to which your employees adopt and use it. Creating a high-quality on-site care experience for your employees will help to drive engagement, continued usage, and ultimately ROI.

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