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Qualcomm Developing Interest in Employee On-Site Medical Clinics

With employee health coverage premiums rising 7.7 percent last year, sick days have become more than a scheduling nuisance for area employers.

They are a threat to the bottom line, and one San Diego-based corporation pioneering a much-needed vaccine is Qualcomm Inc.

Working with Cleveland-based Whole Health Management Inc., Qualcomm is developing a comprehensive on-site medical clinic for its 7,000 local employees.

Qualcomm already operates a small on-site center for immediate health needs but it is planning to open a larger 5,000-square-foot clinic this summer. Details about what services might be offered are still being discussed, according to a spokeswoman.

The use by large corporations of on-site medical clinics is growing. About 100 of the country’s largest employers offer on-site primary care or preventive services, ranging from a nurse on the payroll to multi-room facilities with extended hours staffed by physicians offering services such as X-rays. The number is expected to grow to as many as 250 by year end.

Sara Crate, senior vice president of business development for Whole Health, said her company will open 20 new or expanded on-site medical clinics this year. The business started 25 years ago to serve NASA employees.

“In the last five or so years, more and more companies have been looking at reducing their general health care costs,” Crate said.


How It Works

An on-site medical clinic doesn’t necessarily replace care an employee would receive from a primary doctor, Crate said.

And co-pay costs still apply to help cover the costs of running a clinic.

Crate said the rate of return for companies that invest in on-site clinics can run from 135 percent to 200 percent in five years, depending on the size and extent of services.

Whole Health generally works with companies that employ 1,000 employees or more.

Dr. Allan Khoury, chief medical officer for Whole Health, was in town last week to discuss Qualcomm’s plans, which remain closely guarded.

“Qualcomm is really exciting because they need us to provide a full range of services,” said Khoury, a board-certified internist with 25-plus years of clinical experience.


Key Components

According to Khoury, there are three areas a company clinic should consider.

The first is addressing high-risk employees who can reduce their risks for illness by simply changing or at least cutting back on certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking, overeating and lack of exercise. Khoury estimates that 25 percent of U.S. health care costs can be reduced through education, coaching and similar services.

The second area involves pre-disease patients, such as those with blood sugar problems that, if left untreated, would likely turn into diabetes. For these types of patients, screening services are important, Khoury said.

The third area a company clinic should consider is convenience. Khoury estimates that between 55 percent and 60 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have a primary care physician and many who do have never taken the time to see that doctor.

“(An employee) may have someone’s name, but it’s not someone he’s seen,” Khoury said.

Another noteworthy aspect for high-tech companies such as Qualcomm is the added benefit of helping many employees who are not natural born U.S. citizens.

“The U.S. health care system is hard to understand for us who are from here, can you imagine what it’s like for someone new to the country?” Khoury said.

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