Convenience Can be Costly

Prompt care, quality care, or both?  What is most important for employment-related healthcare? Ambulatory care is sufficient for anyone looking to get treatment for minor injuries, illnesses, or examinations. However, these centers can bring about big downfalls in occupational health because they treat everyone—work-related or not—without fully considering all aspects of the necessary care.

For example, when sending a potential or current employee to ambulatory care for examination, they may be exposed to hazards outside of your control; (i.e. others seeking medical attention for a contagious illness).  While the nearest medical center might only be a five-minute drive, triage of all care-seekers could put your employee behind Johnny with a cough.  In many cases ambulatory cares do not utilize providers with experience and expertise in occupational health, not fully understanding the subtle nuances of OSHA, DOT, the ADA, or the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.  Ultimately, an employer can gain control over medical and indemnity costs by choosing a specialist who fully understands these nuances and save their company more than 50% in total costs.

Another issue in ambulatory care is the duality role providers may have to provide.  A physician may serve as an employee’s family doctor, while also providing work-related care for employers.  What happens if an injured employee goes to his provider at ambulatory care for treatment of a work-related injury?  If the “family” doctor also serves as “company” physician, the physician may keep the patient content (while continuing to provide quality care) to maintain his family-care relationship with the worker.

Family practice physicians’ livelihoods are dependent on visit volume, sometimes clouding the issue of work-related care.  Keeping the patient happy might include taking them off work for a few days and providing prescription medications to ease his discomfort, when neither may be necessary.  While this treatment plan works well for the physician and patient, the employer has to manage OSHA recordables for the prescription drug and the patient’s time off work (including lost time coverage).

Another facility employers utilize for employees’ care is the traditional hospital-based program.  Hospitals are able to provide a full range of services, but rarely in the same location.  These services are typically spread out across a hospital campus, or among numerous locations.

Consider this scenario: your injured employee sees an emergency room physician with a back strain.  The physician refers the worker to physical therapy a couple days, in a completely different facility.  The patient gets lost driving to their therapy appointment and reschedules for the next day.  The therapist’s treatment plan recommends return to work with restrictions and the patient makes another appointment to see the physician a day or two later.  That whole process takes about a week to establish this outcome, when the same conclusion could have been from the onset.

Just because the nearest ambulatory care or hospital based program is nearby or has been the “status quo” for your company, does not mean they are the best option for occupational healthcare.  Utilizing an occupational health specialist can bring dramatic savings to employers in total claim costs.  Those savings may keep your company working during difficult economic times.