The Company Doctor Is Back

The company-owned medical clinic fell from favor several decades ago amid criticisms that the doctors were more aligned with management than with their patients. Now that the concept is making a comeback, some of those same concerns are cropping up, but healthcare cost savings that can amount to millions of dollars are drowning out some of the critics. At the Toyota factory in San Antonio, for example, a clinic run by Take Care Health Systems has helped Toyota slash costs for specialist referrals, emergency room visits, and brand-name prescription drugs. Productivity has jumped too, as employees don�t have to leave the plant to see a doctor.

The company-owned medical clinic fell from favor several decades ago amid criticisms that the doctors were more aligned with management than with their patients. Now that the concept is making a comeback, some of those same concerns are cropping up, but healthcare cost savings that can amount to millions of dollars are drowning out some of the critics.

At the Toyota factory in San Antonio, for example, a clinic run by Take Care Health Systems has helped Toyota slash costs for specialist referrals, emergency room visits, and brand-name prescription drugs. Productivity has jumped too, as employees don’t have to leave the plant to see a doctor.

Lured by claims that the clinics can return $3 to $5 for each dollar spent, and by the prospect of putting a lid on mushrooming healthcare costs, companies like Harrah’s, Nissan, and Walt Disney have joined the growing trend. A recent survey by consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide shows that almost a third of all companies with 1,000 or more employees already have an onsite medical center or plan to have one by next year. Employers maintain that their workers like the idea too. Many employers offer incentives like lower copays and contributions to medical savings accounts to encourage the use of the clinics by employees, who also like the fact that clinic doctors generally spend more time with each patient.

The critics have not been completely silenced, however. Of particular concern, some say, are privacy issues. When the medical team has a close relationship with company management, there’s a danger that health information about employees might be divulged that could influence the company to act against them.