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4 ways health centers are reinventing themselves amid COVID-19

Featuring insights from the 2020 Health Care Delivery Survey

By Louis Dickey and Kara Speer | December 14, 2020

By moving beyond in-person and acute care to additional services, including virtual care, health centers provide more support to employees during the pandemic and beyond.
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About the 2020 Health Care Delivery Survey

Our 2020 Health Care Delivery Survey highlights key research findings on health care delivery in the U.S. based on responses from 397 organizations representing 7.1 million employees. The survey was fielded August 11, 2020, through September 9, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying workforce changes are prompting employers to re-evaluate the role of the health center. This requires exploring a range of issues from the scope of services to be offered in the future to how these services should be delivered – onsite, near-site, virtually or via a combination of these options.

As employers examine these issues and work to ensure health centers meet the needs of today’s reconfigured workforce, we see trends emerging in four key areas:

  1. 01

    Delivery pathways

    While onsite health centers will still be appropriate for many employers, the reduction in onsite workers will likely fuel a movement to more near-site health centers and enhanced virtual care.

    COVID-19 accelerated the rise of virtual care in ways few could have imagined only a year ago. Nearly 80% of health centers added or increased the use of virtual services as a substitute for in-person visits due to the pandemic, according to our 2020 Health Care Delivery Survey. In addition, the scope of virtual services expanded to include not only primary care and acute care, but also chronic condition management, behavioral health, care navigation and physical therapy. Well over half of employers (57%) expect these increased services to become permanent and serve as a strong complement to in-person visits going forward.

    Not only are health centers enhancing virtual offerings, they are also starting to reach a broader population. Fourteen percent of health centers have already expanded virtual services to a larger eligible population, and another 16% are planning or considering doing so in the future.

    Virtual care is gaining traction among employees. According to another recent survey, almost half of respondents used virtual care services during the pandemic and reported positive experiences, with 70% indicating that they are likely or very likely to use these services in the future.

  2. 02

    Primary care

    The 2020 Health Care Delivery Survey also found that 86% of health centers currently provide primary care, and many are expanding their offerings. Almost one in three health centers (29%) now offer ancillary specialty services, with the most common being physical therapy (75%) followed by gynecology (70%) and behavioral health (64%). Among those providing onsite behavioral health, 71% partner with their employee assistance plan vendor and 41% utilize the onsite/near-site health center vendor to provide this service.

    Overall, we see a stronger focus on quality and measuring provider performance. Such a focus can help to more quickly identify and bridge gaps in care.

    A small but growing number of health centers (7%) offer provider-to-provider specialty consults. We expect this figure to double in the next few years. By connecting health center physicians directly with specialists, such programs can potentially improve the speed and quality of care.

    Additionally, health centers are using improved technology to ensure interoperability between their IT systems and electronic medical records in the community. There is also an emphasis on providing more robust patient-facing technology such as portals and mobile applications.

  3. 03

    Population health

    Health centers are enhancing their efforts to improve health outcomes of specific employee groups. For example, over 40% of health centers either have already expanded or plan to expand their role in chronic condition management. At the same time, 30% have expanded or plan to expand remote monitoring of chronic conditions, according to our survey.

    We are also seeing increased utilization of data and predictive modeling to achieve a more comprehensive view of member health and conduct proactive outreach. For instance, this type of modeling can help identify employees who may be at high risk of developing heart disease. With this information, health centers can plan appropriate interventions such as communications on healthy lifestyles and increased monitoring of related chronic conditions to help reduce risk and improve health outcomes.

    Our research reveals an opportunity for stronger integration between health centers and other vendor partners who are responsible for various programs across a range of areas from care management to wellbeing. Less than 40% of health centers are integrating with little or no issues with employers’ current vendor partners. This type of integration can help close gaps in care.

  4. 04

    Care navigation/advocacy

    Care navigation involves finding appropriate providers in the community and coordinating care through referrals, scheduling and follow-up. Employers are increasingly interested in having health center vendors provide care navigation services for members, either through onsite staff or virtually. At present, nearly half of health centers (48%) steer employees to high-value specialists in the community. Among those in this group, 65% use health plan tools to identify providers and facilities while 43% rely on local market knowledge.

As health centers reinvent themselves, they are moving beyond providing only in-person primary and acute care to offering additional services, including enhanced virtual care. In doing so, they will be better positioned to support both onsite and remote employees during the ongoing pandemic and beyond.


Medical Director, Health Management Practice
Consultant, Employer Sponsored Health Centers

National Practice Leader, Employer Sponsored Health Centers

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