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On-Site Clinics at the Workplace

Thursday, September 13, 2001 at 2:37 PM

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Some large corporations are finding employees can get more work done by having a doctor's office right at the job site. After all, sick workers want to stay home or must leave early to get medical help. But how safe are your medical secrets when your boss pays the doctor's bill? 90.3 WCPN's Mike West examines the issue.

Mike West- It looks like a typical doctor’s office, with a waiting room and a front desk, magazines and a TV - but it’s located at the Cleveland hub of Continental Airlines. The clinic is in the cargo area of the airport so airport workers can drop in for medical attention without taking extra time off.

Sue Beyer- We see a lot of back injuries, shoulders, knees, a lot of people who are just sick, and they want to see a doctor come in.

MW- Sue Beyer, a medical assistant, says the clinic offers physical examinations which are sometimes needed for employment, some lab work and can even dispense drugs. Beyer says the only thing they don’t do is blood work. A doctor is here 3 half-days a week. At other times, nurses care for workers. No appointment is needed and about 500 workers a month drop in. This patient, who didn’t give his name, likes the system. He says seeing an outside doctor, was a hassle that cost him at least half a day, between travel time and hanging around a waiting room.

Patient- I don’t see a doctor too often and if something’s needed it’s here, so it’s nice. This makes it easy and convenient.

MW- This clinic and similar ones at other Continental hubs in Guam, Los Angeles, Houston, and Newark are run by the Whole Health Management corporation based in Cleveland. It’s a medical contracting company that’s paid to set up and run the clinics. Whole Health also has 17 other clients, each with a workforce of at least 700.

It costs workers nothing to use the clinics and one of the selling points of the program is that it allows corporate leaders to show they care for their employees by offering the service. Jim Hummer, president of Whole Health Management, says the idea is catching on. And that it’s just plain good business to make doctors available at work.

Jim Hummer- The large corporations are beginning to realize the power of keeping their employees healthy. If you do have healthy employees that do show up for work more often. While they’re there at work they are more productive. And because the corporation provides these services for their employees they engender tremendous employee loyalty and they distinguish themselves among other people in the marketplace so that they can attract and the retain the best talent.

MW- But some people see at least one problem that may keep some workers away - exposing medical secrets to the same doctor who is paid, although indirectly, from the same managers. Jessica Berg is an assistant professor of law and bio-ethics at the Case Western Reserve University Law and Medical School.

Jessica Berg- Most employees don’t think of the clinic as being separate from the employer. So it feels like what you’re doing is going in and your telling your employer, “I have these kinds of problems,” and most people don’t feel comfortable with that.

MW- Whole Health leaders insist patients’ private information remains totally confidential, but Berg says just having the clinic near executives is enough to frighten some workers away from free medical help.

JB- As an employee you might just worry about the fact that your employer sees (you) walk to the doctor’s office. Some people don’t tell their employer when they take off to go to a doctor’s appointment, they just say they have a personal appointment.

MW- The president of Whole Health, Jim Hummer, insists privacy is not an issue. He insists that in the 20-year history of the company, none of his medical workers have broken confidentiality rules.

JH- If we ever violate that trust we would not be able to survive. Corporations hire our organization in order to maintain that privacy and we only work with clients who agree that when a patient comes top our clinic that incident is private. It’s no different than if they’d gone to their own private doctor off-site. So if a corporation is not willing to agree to that we will not do work for them.

MW- But unless you work for a very large company, don’t expect a doctor’s office soon. Right now on-site clinics are only located at large companies. The reason, all of whole health’s clients are self-insured. That means they pay all their employees’ medical costs themselves, as opposed to using an insurance company and paying premiums. On-site clinic supporters say it cost less money to keep people healthy than it does to treat them after they become ill. And now even some smaller companies are now banding together in an effort to share “at -work” doctors and clinics and split the cost. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3 WCPN News.

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