Focus on healthcare: The value of onsite doctors

If employers are prepared to look beyond the seemingly high costs of providing an on-site doctor, there may be a real return on investment, says Nick Golding

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The cost of an on-site doctor varies depending on the frequency of visits that they make to a workplace. If well utilised, an on-site doctor can lead to savings through staff avoiding late starts and early finishes to see their local doctor.

Location can be an important factor in determining the success of an on-site doctor’s service, as there is a tendency for them to have a greater impact in more remote workplaces.

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Having a doctor come into the workplace to treat employees for an allocated period each week can be an expensive benefit to provide. If the service is well used by staff, however, employers may find that they save money by avoiding absence whenever employees have a doctor’s appointment. The initial cost, although largely dependent on an organisation’s size and the type of service provided, may put many employers off the idea. Hiring a self-employed on-site private doctor for five half-day sessions a week can cost an organisation in the region of £90,000 a year. Yet some providers offer a choice of funding methods for employers including a non-funded option, where employees pay for their appointment and organisations are only required to provide the space. For those employers on a budget, this is obviously the cheapest way forward. Employers can calculate the return on investment that they stand to gain by totalling up the amount of time lost to doctors appointments over the course of a year.

Mark Gorton, regional manager for the London Wharf area at Bupa Wellness, explains: “If a company has 1,000 employees it may cost that company £25 an hour for a member of staff to go off site and see a doctor, and this is where the savings can be made.” Grey London, the advertising company, introduced an on-site doctor for half a day per week as part of a health push 18 months ago, and believes it is saving the company money because such a large percentage of the workforce actually use the scheme. Liz Nottingham, people team director at Grey London, says: “We estimate that the time saving to the company if each employee goes to the doctor just once a year, is 35 working days a year.” Good levels of utilisation are crucial to the success of such a scheme, because without high take-up rates employers may not reap back their sometimes-sizable investments.

Alex Jones, commercial director at Norwich Union Occupational Health, says: “Value comes down to how well an on-site doctor is utilised. If you have one coming in everyday but you are only booking in three appointments a day it is being under-utilised and can result in a significant cost.” With this in mind, larger organisations may be more likely to find that an on-site doctor’s service pays its way. “Larger-populated companies tend to get more value from these schemes. They get that utilisation figure up to about 95% simply because the larger the numbers, the larger the usage,” says Gorton. Organisations located in remote areas or on large business parks may also find themselves suited to having an on-site doctor. Dr Les Smith, group medical director at First Assist, explains: “In areas where it is difficult enough to find houses, let alone a local doctor, employers will find take-up rates are higher.”