Willis Towers Watson: Employers with health centers 'looking for ways to reinvent themselves'

A person talks to their doctor on their phone with a laptop in the background
More than 80% of employer health centers added or increased the use of virtual care options in place of in-person visits, according to a new survey from advisory firm Willis Towers Watson. (Getty/airdone)

More than 80% of employer health centers added or increased the use of virtual care options in place of in-person visits, according to a new survey from advisory firm Willis Towers Watson.

The Willis Towers Watson Health Care Delivery Survey, conducted between August and September, asked 107 employers with onsite or near-site health centers, about delivery changes during the pandemic. 

More than half (52%) of respondents said they kept those health centers open to in-person visits during the pandemic. Of those employers who did close centers, 27% said they'd reopened at least one center and 19% said they kept them closed temporarily. Only 2% said they permanently shuttered a health center.

However, the pandemic has changed some plans in terms of employee care. Half of the respondents (50%) who were planning on expanding a center or adding a new center have delayed or canceled those plans. Only 10% say they have accelerated their health center expansion plans. Half of the employers said they were planning to expand a center or add a new center. Of those employers that expanded virtual options, nearly 60% said they plan to make the changes permanent.

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“With employees’ health care needs shifting amid the pandemic, health centers are looking for ways to reinvent themselves,” said Kara Speer, national practice leader of employer-sponsored health centers for Willis Towers Watson. “Most centers no longer view themselves as a facility to provide merely in-person primary and acute care and now offer additional services, including enhanced virtual care, to complement in-person visits.”

The survey also found 43% either added or expanded their role in chronic condition management or intend to do so in the future and 30% of employers said they plan to expand remove monitoring. In all, the survey found, 46% of employers offer chronic condition management virtually while 41% offer virtual behavioral health services, 33% offer virtual care navigation, and 21% offer virtual physical therapy.  

“The pandemic made many employers reevaluate the role of their health centers and the scope of services they provide,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., population health leader of Willis Tower Watson’s North American Health and Benefits practice in a statement. “Even with fewer employees at physical workplaces, we expect onsite and near-site health centers will continue to play an important role in maintaining and improving employee health.”