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Employers go beyond traditional occ health
New skill set required
Employers are interested in moving beyond traditional occupational health and minor acute care services, to offering a full range of wellness and primary care services, according to research from the Washington, DC-based Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).1
Researchers conducted telephone interviews in 2010 with workplace clinic industry experts and representatives of benefits consulting firms, clinic vendors and employers sponsoring onsite clinics.
Employers view workplace clinics as a tool to contain medical costs, boost productivity and enhance their reputations as employers of choice, according to the study.
An interesting challenge
As more employers sponsor workplace clinics that focus on primary care, and are expanding well beyond occupational health, this brings up "an interesting challenge" for occupational health professionals, says Ha Tu, MPA, the study's lead author and a senior Health Researcher at HSC.
'Many of our respondents have pointed out that occupational health needs to develop a different set of skills in dealing with wellness and primary care kinds of issues," says Tu.
It's been difficult for some occupational health nurses to make the transition, she adds. "They are used to everything being about work injuries. There was a focus on taking care of the injury and getting the patient back to work."
Viewing employees more holistically requires a different skill set, she says. "The medical director from one employer talked about the 'hug factor.' This medical director told us that some occupational health nurses were able to make that jump, and others weren't," she says.
The study focused on new primary care models, which Tu says are getting increasing attention from employers because of escalating health care costs. "They definitely see workplace clinics as a way to contain costs and improve access to care and delivery of care," she says. "It definitely seems to be on the upswing."
As workplace clinics expands, Tu says that it is "absolutely the case" that there are more opportunities for occupational health, although additional training may be necessary to step into this new role.
"Benefits consultants mentioned to us that having a workplace clinic is one of the things that enhances an employer's reputation as a good place to work," she says. "And occupational health nurses are very much in demand at these workplace clinics."
1. Tu HT, Boukus ER, Cohen GR. Workplace clinics: A sign of growing employer interest in wellness. Research Brief No. 17, Center for Studying Health System Change, Washington, DC (December 2010).
For more information on workplace clinics, contact:
Ha Tu, Senior Health Researcher, Center for Studying Health System Change, Washington, DC. Phone: (202) 484-4690. Fax: (202) 484-9258. E-mail: HTu@hschange.org.