The evolution of worksite and employer health clinics

What began as a way to patch up workers and send them back to their jobs has evolved into an array of healthcare services, including fitness center and life management programs. Worksite health clinics have evolved significantly since the days of the “company doctor.”

Surprisingly, the interest in employee fitness began relatively early in the history of worksite and employer health clinics. Companies such as the Pullman Company and National Cash Register recognized the need to keep employees healthy and physically active in the late 1800s. For the majority of employers, though, the emphasis continued to be on treating injuries and illness so that employee productivity was not affected.

The evolution continued after World War II when several companies provided gymnasium facilities and instructors for their upper-level management employees. The fitness trend continued – and expanded to include all employees – throughout the next several decades. Towards the middle of the 20th century, employers recognized the need to provide healthcare for more than just treatment of injuries or physical fitness and further expanded their offerings to include the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

A meaningful moment in the evolution of worksite and employer health clinics occurred with the establishment of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) in 1970. OSHA influenced a shift from treating injuries to preventing injuries. Workplace safety became a focus, and along with it preventative services became a concern of workplace healthcare.

Shortly after, the 1980s brought a wider, more holistic, view of employee health. At that point, worksite and employer health clinics expanded to include lifestyle management programs, including weight loss and smoking clinics, stress management programs, and other health-focused classes.

As part of their evolution, many worksite clinics have recently implemented the use of electronic health records (EHRs) that enable employees and their providers to view their medical data and track their progress more efficiently. Today’s employer health clinics now include a range of services, provided in person and online, designed to keep employees healthy, to keep productivity up, and to keep employer costs down.