The history of on-site clinics

In a sense, workplace healthcare clinics have been around for a very long time, starting with the company doctor who patched up coal miners and sent them back to work. As far back as the 1800s, doctors were employed at the work site, not necessarily for the benefit of the employees but rather for the company itself. Services provided by that doctor were paid for by the employees themselves, who could not afford to be out of work for an injury or illness.

Today, a growing number of employers are offering on-site healthcare as a benefit to their employees, as an incentive effective in recruiting and retaining top quality talent. Many of those companies today offer “business class” benefits as part of their on-site clinics, including fitness centers, dietitians, and weight loss management.

The history of on-site healthcare clinics in the US follows the history of economic highs and lows, for the most part. During the Great Depression of the 1920s, the on-site doctor or healthcare provider was needed less as there were fewer jobs and, in fact, many businesses closed their doors completely. The model at that point was still one of employee-paid care and employees, if they were working, had very little money to spare for such things.

Once the manufacturing business ramped back up, on-site healthcare once again became necessary. Employees were still primarily responsible for the costs, again with the goal of having their injury or illness treated so they would not lose time on the job. However, a trend began during this time toward employer-paid care as employer insurance started to become more commonplace.

When the economy took another hit in the 1970s and 1980s, employer cutbacks again targeted the benefit of on-site healthcare. In the 21st century, however, there has been another rise in the number of employers offering on-site clinics, with Forbes reporting that 29% “of companies with 5,000 or more workers offered an on-site or nearby health clinic in 2014, up from 24% in 2012.”