By Mike Petters

Is there a doctor in the house? At many companies, the answer is increasingly yes.

Workplace medical centers are proliferating. Thirty-seven percent of companies with 5,000 or more employees now offer at-work medical care, according to Mercer, a consulting firm.

These employers are smart to do so. Dedicated health centers allow companies to invest in their biggest asset - their workforce. When combined with other tactics like telemedicine and wellness initiatives, these centers improve workers' health and enhance their productivity.

People are more likely to see the doctor if it's easy to do so. According to one study, a visit to a workplace health center takes as little as 30 minutes. A visit to an outside doctor can be five times longer.

Some companies are expanding care into workers' homes via telemedicine. If an employee or her child wakes up in the middle of the night with a sinus infection, for instance, she can chat with a doctor online and get a prescription immediately. Today, 18 percent of large employers offer telemedicine.

Many workplace health centers are also more comprehensive than a conventional doctor's office. They may house physicians, nurses, pharmacists, wellness coaches, nutritionists, physical therapists, and lab technicians.

So if a primary-care doctor believes her patient's weight elevates his risk of a heart attack, she can refer him to a nutritionist next door - or to a wellness coach who can prescribe an exercise regimen.

With convenient access to health-care professionals, it's easier for a worker to improve his health, too. An analysis in the International Journal of Health Services found that increasing access to primary-care physicians is associated with better health as measured by the incidence of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and infant mortality.

A healthier workforce also delivers enormous benefits for employers. According to one study, workers who eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables at least four times a week are 20 percent more likely to be more productive than their junk-food-eating counterparts.

In my own field of manufacturing, a healthy workforce is vital. There's currently a shortage of more than 600,000 skilled manufacturing workers, and this skills gap is likely to widen as more baby boomers retire. So losing just a single worker to injury or illness can have an impact on our business.

My company is launching dedicated family health centers at our two shipyards this year, which will provide access to medical professionals to more than 44,000 workers and their families. There's no deductible or insurance form - just a $15 fee per visit and reduced pharmacy fees. A third-party provider will run the centers, so health information remains private. And many of those who choose to live tobacco-free will qualify for a preferred health-insurance rate that is $660 lower than the standard rate.

We're not the only company making strategic investments in the long-term health of our company and workforce. General Electric's aerospace arm, GE Aviation, just announced plans for an on-site health center in Ohio, offering care to 7,000 employees, their families, and retirees.

Investments like these benefit the employees of not just the present but the future, too. Our workforce, for example, is filled with sons and daughters who have followed their parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents into our ranks. An investment in the health of our workers' families today may pay dividends years down the road, when their kids take jobs of their own in our shipyards.

To maintain a productive workforce, employers must ensure that there's a doctor in the house - or, rather, in the workplace.

Mike Petters is president and CEO of the military shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries. mike.petters@hii-co.com