Employees who miss work due to illness or stay on the job while sick and unable to work productively take an enormous economic toll on organizations. But on-site clinics could make a dramatic difference in both workers’ health and the bottom line of many companies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports absenteeism is costing employers in the U.S. about $225.8 billion annually, or $1,685 per worker. In addition, more people are working when they feel sick, even when they are unproductive, and that also cuts into the bottom line.

The results of the Employer Measure of Productivity, Absence and Quality (EMPAQ) survey from the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Truven Health Analytics revealed that on-site clinics can be an effective way to curb costs associated with employee absenteeism.

Based on data provided by 107 large U.S. companies representing nearly 4 million employees, the EMPAQ research found more than half (60%) of the employers surveyed offered an on-site clinic for at least some of their employees. Those who provided on-site clinic services to all workers reported an average of fewer than 5 workdays missed per employee in 2014. However, organizations without any on-site clinics had an absentee rate in 2014 of more than 20 days per employee – a finding Karen Marlo, vice president of the NBGH, called “a real eye opener.”

Although an on-site clinic may sound like an expensive undertaking that requires a fairly large space equipped with high-tech imaging devices and staffed with physicians, the reality is that on-site health facilities can be relatively simple and require little room, according to Marlo.

For example, some on-site clinics function effectively with 1 health care provider, often a nurse practitioner who is available part-time to see employees who need to be checked for acute symptoms such as sore throats or headaches. Many organizations with on-site clinics also reported using nurses to help manage workers’ chronic conditions and to advise and coach those working on lifestyle issues such as smoking cessation.

“Some employers say that in the end, just that one-on-one relationship has made all the difference to employees,” Marlo notes.

The EMPAQ survey found organizations’ use of telehealth is expanding. However, it is premature to know if this technology will affect whether or not employers adopt the use of on-site clinics.

The report also noted that the total lost workdays in 2014 averaged 6 days per worker for all industries – resulting in significant lost productivity for organizations with thousands of employees. The annual cost per long-term disability claim across all businesses last year was $9,546. Employers who offered transitional or light-duty assignment programs for employees who needed them reduced their average long-term disability costs per claim by 33%.

The bottom line, according to the EMPAQ survey, is that an effective health and productivity management strategy – including on-site clinics – can mean the difference between high-performing, highly present employees and workers who have less than optimal performance and more absenteeism.

– Sherry Baker is a health and medical journalist whose work has appeared in Psychology Today, Newsweek, Discover and many other publications. She is also the former Director of Public Relations for the Emory Heart Center. Any opinions expressed within this document are solely the opinion of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of Ebix or its personnel.