The Southern California region of Kaiser Permanente has launched a workplace health experiment that has the potential to further cement its relationships with large business clients.

The Pasadena-based unit of Kaiser in January opened a workplace clinic at California Steel Industries that is open to all 900 workers and their families – not just the 60 percent of employees who are Kaiser members.

Kaiser, which traditionally only provides care at its own separate facilities, beat out several other bidders for the California Steel contract to establish an in-house clinic. It may promote the concept to other workplaces if the pilot is successful at the Fontana mill.

“We’re trying lots of innovative ways to reach out to people, to be proactive in getting people to address many critical health care issues,” said Dr. Benjamin Chu, Kaiser’s regional president.

California Steel is providing the building and will cover the $20 office visit co-pay for at least the first year for all employees.

Kaiser may very well see additional employees sign up for its HMO service as a result, but the steel mill maintains that its motivation was quite different.

“We don’t see this as a Kaiser recruitment tool. We were more interested in providing more opportunities for our employees to get preventative health care,” said Brett Guge, California Steel’s executive vice president for finance. “In the long run, we’ll have healthier people and save the company money and our people a lot of problems in their lives.”

In addition to the California Steel clinic, SoCal Kaiser later this spring plans to launch a mobile clinic van that will travel to

workplaces with large numbers of members. Chu said both clinics are part of the “proactive office encounter” initiative that began in his region and has expanded to other Kaiser markets.

The initiative involves accessing data from the HMO’s electronic health records system – which Kaiser spent $1 billion to develop over the last several years –

to identify members who can be encouraged to get screenings or sign up for preventive health programs. The system allows Kaiser to send phone or e-mail messages to encourage visits.

In other Kaiser news last week, the Southern California region became the first and only California HMO to achieve the highest possible rankings for both national standards of care and member satisfaction in the California Office of the Patient Advocate’s annual Health Care Quality Report Card.

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