Cisco Systems, a multinational corporation that develops and sells digital networking services, has opened a health care center on the campus of its headquarters in San Jose, Calif. that uses state-of-the art technology wired into the $38 million facility. The new LifeConnections center, which includes fitness and child care programs, is drawing attention from companies across the country interested in its design and the way telecommunications equipment is hard-wired into the building.

Run by an independent medical group, the health center offers optional primary care, with pediatric, nutritional and other health services for the 17,000 employees at Cisco’s headquarters, and it provides health guidance via video teleconferencing for many of the remaining global employees of the company’s 67,000-person workforce.

The San Jose center features wireless check-in at the front desk, online scheduling, and an electronic medical record. Physicians can pick up the wireless signal on their laptops at a number of locations throughout the building. The medical center occupies 24,000 sq. ft. of a 112,000 sq. ft. building that was retrofitted for health care, with the separate fitness and childcare operations occupying the remainder of the structure. The building has been gold LEED-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Dr. Pamela Hymel, senior director of Cisco’s corporate medical programs, estimates that the center has the capacity to serve 45,000 people, including dependents of employees. While the staff includes one internist, the facility also has four family practitioners, a part time pediatrician, part time acupuncturist, chiropractor, physical therapist, and nutritionist. “It’s a full service center,” she says. An on-site pharmacy is run by Walgreens.

“We’ve seen as our employee population ages, an increase in our medical costs. So we wanted the opportunity to really get in front of that medical trend and make a difference on the health care and health outcomes of our employees,” Hymel explains. “We do feel that there is going to be a good return on investment in the next few years as we look at savings off of our medical plan costs and also improved health.”

Corporate health centers, which have been gaining in popularity, cut down on the amount of work hours lost through employee visits to their off-site physicians. Santa Clara, Calif.-based computer chip maker Intel Corp. and Stamford, Conn.-based Pitney Bowes, which provides mailing services and products, are among the major firms that have opened medical facilities. Cisco’s LifeConnections center in San Jose, which opened in late October, is drawing interest from corporate leaders across the country. “A lot of companies are coming to visit us right now,” says Hymel.

The Cisco operation is an expanded version of a facility run by Cerner Corp., a healthcare information technology company, at its headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. Cerner administers the software information systems at the San Jose site.

The building has a data center with a wireless router, and communications equipment distributed throughout the facility, including the procedure room, where physicians are able to do minor suturing and treatments. The 14 nursing care suites are fitted with high-definition flat panel screens and electronic monitoring equipment hidden in cabinetry, and patient vitals and medical images can be displayed on the screen. Elsewhere in the facility, labs support testing for patients with diabetes, coronary artery disease and other conditions, and offer immediate strep throat screening, as well as pregnancy tests.
Two wireless networks carry information throughout the facility. The electronic medical record has a hard-wired connection to the Cerner Corp. back in Kansas City.

The medical router carrying patients’ health information is designed to protect their confidentiality, emphasizes Cisco Systems spokesman Ken Lotich. “The key takeaway is that this facility is actually run independently by Cerner Corp. with an independent group of medical doctors, so Cisco itself has absolutely no access to any of the employees’ confidential medical records and information.”

The medical center has been a hit with employees. “We’ve gotten overwhelmingly great response,” Hymel says. About 85% of responses have rated the medical center as excellent or very good, she adds. “So we’re quite happy.”