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Dr. Tim Peters is pictured at an OurHealth clinic in Valparaiso.

Giles Bruce, The Times

Brenda Davis didn't used to go to the doctor regularly.

It was expensive and inconvenient, she said.

But when a medical clinic opened up at her workplace in 2013, offering free, unlimited visits to employees, she didn't have any reason not to go.

The clinic at Merrillville-based Centier Bank may have also saved her life.

The doctor there told her she was due to be tested for cancer. She had always been afraid to be screened. She got tested, early last year — and found out she had cervical cancer. She had it removed and is now cancer-free.

"It's made a difference for me actually to have a clinic here," said Davis, 62, a verification associate who lives in Gary. "I'm taking better care of myself. I'm not getting any younger, so I want to stay here for a while. I'm utilizing it as much as possible."

Better patient outcomes

Several large Northwest Indiana employers now have similar clinics, which are provided by Indianapolis-based Our Health. Its founder, Jeff Wells, did his first two years of medical school at Indiana University Northwest in Gary.

The employers pay OurHealth a monthly fee to provide unlimited primary care services to employees and their family members. Some employees pay for some services, but for many the preventive services are completely free. The clinics are part of a growing trend of Region health care providers that don't accept health insurance.

"We wanted to find a better way to deliver care, that was focused on the patient, driving outcomes, in terms of better quality of care and finding employees and employers ways to save money," Wells said.

The company has 30 locations in five states, including 23 in Indiana. In Northwest Indiana, there are two clinics in Valparaiso and one in Merrillville, serving such employers as Valparaiso University, Task Force Tips, Urschel Laboratories and MonoSol.

Wells said that companywide about two-thirds of employees utilize the clinics. "It only takes a handful of those that might be working on a chronic condition like diabetes or dealing with stress management, where you can get people significant economic return," he said.

He added that health care providers enjoy the arrangement because, getting away from the typical fee-for-service model, they can spend as much as with patients as is needed.

"We're trying to move away from a system that built around doing more stuff and getting paid for the more stuff you do to a model about having a better experience for the patient and having better outcomes, spending more time, getting questions answered," he said. "If people are healthy, they're missing less work. If they're feeling well, they're more productive, engaged and companies overall see benefits."

Improved experience

Dr. Tim Peters, a general internist who works at the OurHealth clinics that serves Valparaiso University employees in downtown Valparaiso, is a fan of the model. He said that in his previous job at a traditional primary care office much of his time was spent on documenting services they would be reimbursed by insurance companies.

"There was always a push to see more and more patients," he said. "A busy day here is 12 to 14 patients a day. It was 22 to 25 at my old practice. You see a manageable amount of patients. You have time to talk to them."

Patients can also email and call OurHealth, he noted, and the clinic provides some basic medications and blood tests. The clinics also have health coaches who work with patients to eat healthier, exercise more and quit smoking.

"I can save my patients money," Peters said. "I love being able to make someone's life easier and take care of them."

Davis, the Centier Bank employee, said the clinic not only helped find her cancer but assisted her in losing weight. She worked with a health coach who encouraged her to use an online fitness program to track what she was eating. She has since dropped about 50 pounds.

She said the clinic has also helped her manage her diabetes and high cholesterol. She used to avoid going to the doctor unless she was feeling sick.

"By having the clinic here, there's no excuses for me not to go, to make certain I'm in control of my health issues," she said.

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Health reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.