Proceeding with caution on worksite clinics

Like vendors in other healthcare sectors, clinic vendors can have wildly different and sometimes questionable ways of calculating health and financial impacts. What's telling about these questionable calculations is that only 41% of worksite clinic sponsors were able to provide ROI data, according to a September 2015 Mercer study.

Obviously it is in clinic vendors’ interests to say that they save money. It is also in benefits managers’ interests to show that their clinic vendor performs. But if, on rigorous analysis, a clinic does not return more than it costs and/or can’t demonstrate enhanced health outcomes, what’s the point? You can claim — and many do — that better access provides worthwhile value, but that’s akin to putting lipstick on a pig.

See also: 5 ways worksite clinics facilitate savings

Don’t get me wrong. Worksite clinics, when structured properly, are profoundly advanced structures that, over an initial three-year period, should drive far better health outcomes, return the sponsor’s investment and lower health plan costs by 20% or more. Benefits managers with those aspirations undoubtedly drove clinic implementation in 29% of firms with 5,000+ employees in 2015, up from 23% just two years before, according to the Mercer survey.

In their best forms, these health centers can be comprehensive primary care medical homes that deliver life management care, walk-in convenience care, occupational health services, chronic disease management and referral management. They can deliver excellent primary care, but more than that, they can manage the full continuum of clinical and financial risks that drive appropriate and disrupt inappropriate care.

See also: SAS on-site clinic lowers worker ER visits

An inescapable and damning conclusion from the Mercer data is that many consultants guiding the choices of poor performing vendors might be asking the wrong questions or might be conflicted by relationships with those vendors, or both. Most advisers probably are not held accountable for urging decisions that turn out to be hugely expensive for their clients.

Many simply don’t know what they don’t know. Clinics are deceptively complex structures. Conventional assumptions may not apply and, while a panel convened by the National Association for Worksite Health Centers is working to develop consensus on appropriate clinic performance metrics, no standards exist yet. So for the uninitiated, ignorance is bliss until the hoped-for results fail to materialize.

Finding a suitable clinic vendor is not a simple or ordinary benefits purchase. The fact that purchasers choose so few high-performing vendors suggests that better guidance — from consultants with deeper subject matter expertise — is needed. Holding consultants accountable for their recommendations by tying compensation to results is probably the best path to clinic performance. It would improve the clinic assessment process, the caliber of consultants performing the evaluations and hold clinic vendors to a higher standard, driving improvements throughout the sector as well.

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