Large employers embrace on-site clinics despite challenges posed by COVID-19: survey

Employer on-site clinics have proved nimble in the face of COVID-19—so expect their appeal to continue to grow, a new survey shows.

More than half (58%) of the 122 large employers surveyed this year by the Business Group on Health said they already have an on-site clinic operating, with 3% saying their first clinic will open next year.

In addition, 11% said they are considering a clinic for 2022 or 2023, the survey found.

"On-site clinics have proven to be flexible enough to adapt to the current landscape and provide COVID-19 testing and virtual counseling," the researchers wrote in the report.

Though the pandemic forced large numbers of employees nationwide to work from home, employers are also mulling expanded services at on-site clinics, according to the survey. For instance, the survey found 34% of employers offered on-site primary care in 2020, with 26% more saying they plan to implement it by 2023.

RELATED: COVID-19 is pushing employers to offer new virtual care offerings, survey finds

And while COVID-19 is forcing some employers to press pause on delivery reform efforts, it's still a key focus, the survey found.

"It sort of is that metaphor of delivery reform was coming down the ramp and COVID-19 cut it off," Brenna Shebel, vice president at the Business Group, said on a call with reporters. "It's really how employers had to pivot in the state of the pandemic to be able to serve the needs of their employees."

Despite the pandemic's impact, employers say they want to take a more active role in changing care delivery, the survey found. Nearly a quarter (24%) said they're aiming to circumvent some of the traditional delivery system through point solutions, concierge care and navigation, while 5% said they plan to pursue alternative payment and delivery models more directly.

Thirty-one percent said they're looking at a mix of both approaches. In addition, 21% said they would defer to their partners, namely payers and pharmacy benefit managers, on how to best proceed.

RELATED: Large employers embrace advanced primary care in 2020, NBGH survey shows

Top of mind in new delivery models is advanced primary care, according to the report, which moves from fee-for-service to a more value- and population-based model. Overall, 51% of employers surveyed say they will have at least one approach to advance primary care in place in 2021, up from 46% in 2020.

The most popular option is virtual primary care, which goes beyond traditional telemedicine to establish "a primary care relationship with a provider in a virtual way," Shebel said. Twenty-one percent will offer such services in 2021, with 35% additionally considering it for 2022 or 2023.

Another attractive option is taking steps to more directly push employees toward accountable care organizations and high-performance networks, beyond plan design. Sixteen percent said they would offer this in 2021, with 32% saying they're mulling it for 2022 or 2023.

"For some employers, working to actually steer employees to those types of providers is something that's on the horizon," Shebel said.