A Healthy Bottom Line Starts with Executive Health

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It's Monday and the biggest decision of the year stems on today's meeting.  Just before the meeting your top executive gets that nagging pain in his chest. His mind wonders and fear begins to set in. He tries to gather his thoughts, but in the back of his head he thinks about his father who died in his late 50's of a heart attack.


The rest of the meeting is a blur. As much as he wants to care about the decisions that he has to make, he is more concerned about his health. This scenario is more common than most companies realize. It may not be chest pain, but it could be a myriad of other symptoms.


As much as executives are responsible people who made it to the top through hard work and dedication, they are also human beings, not machines. The same personality traits that drove them to the top of the ladder are also the ones that can cause high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and even cancer.


While the tendency is to ignore the symptoms, doing so can cause an irreversible chain of events. Executives are a special breed within the workforce. They experience long hours, extensive mental strain, stress, and often travel several times a week. Their Type A personality often forces them to push the limits in an effort to stay competitive.  


They know that the success of their company is dependent on their own efforts and good decisions. While they will worry about symptoms, they often put off getting checked out by their doctor so that they can keep working. Much like the Lamborghini that you wouldn't take for the Fast Lube 10 minute oil change, a ten minute HMO physical is out of the question.


Instead, executives and high profile individuals require more time with the physician to discuss the complexities of their health and develop a plan of action for future wellness. More and more companies understand the need for an executive health program and have included it as a standard portion of their benefit package.


Fifteen years ago executive health programs were more geared toward the fortune 500 companies, but as their popularity have grown, and now even many smaller companies have caught on.

The Exam

A thorough executive physical will give the patient several hours of examination and one-on-one time with the physician. The patient will fill out a lengthy confidential questionnaire that inquires about every aspect of their life, giving the physician the whole picture and not just bits and pieces.


The doctor orders a multitude of tests including extensive laboratory tests, stress tests, a fitness assessment, a nutritional assessment, hearing, vision, a colonoscopy, and maybe even a full body CAT scan. The patient then comes back in about ten days for results. When the patient leaves, they basically know more about themselves than they ever thought possible. Every test that is performed has a purpose. For example, a lengthy color vision test can reveal that an individual has trouble differentiating between blue and purple.  


That same individual may be making decisions based on information within colored charts. Knowing the color vision discrepancy, they can ask that charts not include certain colors.  This not only keeps the executive from being embarrassed, it could save the company from making a mistake that could cost them money. On a more personal note, executive physicals can find things like cancer or other diseases. In one case a 45 year old male was in for a physical exam and had zero health complaints.


During the virtual colonoscopy, the CAT scan portion of the test identified a malignant tumor on his sacrum. Within a matter of weeks he had it removed and was back out on the golf course fully recovered. He is one of only a few cases that have survived that type of cancer because symptoms often occur when it is simply too late.


Another case involved a high profile attorney that was feeling sluggish and decided that it must be time to retire. During his exam a tumor on his thyroid revealed the cause of his fatigue and inability to concentrate. After it was removed, he felt years younger and took retirement out of his near future plans.


Luckily the tumor had not yet become cancerous."Cases like these happen every week," stated Dr. Mark Anderson co-author of the book Executive Medicine: Optimizing Your Chances for a Longer Life. "Executive health programs are not just a good idea, they are essential in the corporate arena. An executive physical is the way medicine is meant to be practiced - on a personal and comprehensive level."

Benefits

Much like in business, you have to know where you stand. The executive physical gives the patient a metric. Since we know what can be measured can be improved, giving the patient a starting point and then repeating the exam yearly will help them track results. Patients that do have problems are able to address the problem and treat it, while others get a clean bill of health and peace of mind.


In 2002 the University of Michigan conducted a study on the benefits of executive health programs. They found that executives who took part in an executive health program submitted 20% less health claims and lost 45% fewer workdays. Not watching the health of key executives can have devastating effects on a company.


In 1997, Coca-Cola lost their CEO, Robert Goizuetta, to cancer at the age of 65. Even McDonalds has experienced loss with James Cantelupo, the company's CEO suffered a serious heart attack, and would be one of the two CEO's the company would lose in a year.


These loses were not just tragic within themselves, but had a direct impact on shareholders. Executive physical programs are designed for prevention. While problems may be found, they are generally found early and give the patient time to get treatment or make lifestyle changes that increase the chance of a healthy future.  


Allowing executives to take charge of their health can have lasting impressions on a company's bottom line. When your executives and key individuals are in optimum health, their output will inevitably be of greater quality.

A Good Executive Physical Program

It seems that executive health programs are becoming increasingly popular, but the actual exam and follow up (if any) may vary greatly. A good executive physical program will have the following components:

  • A comprehensive exam and extensive time with the physician
  • High quality imaging equipment (CAT scan, Nuclear Camera, etc.)
  • Hearing, vision, and color vision screenings
  • Nutritional assessment
  • Fitness Assessment
  • Lifestyle Assessment
  • Extensive laboratory test that screen for diabetes, anemia, liver and kidney function, thyroid disease, and lipid panel, cardiac risk and any additional tests indicated by the patient's history or
  • Cardiac screening through a stress test or thallium stress test
  • Colonoscopy
  • Prostate exam for men and a pap smear for women
  • Some programs have added benefits such as executive coaches, personalized vitamins, and extensive blood tests like Biophysical 250 which identifies biomarkers and risk factors for future disease. A few programs also offer personalized services that include follow-up visits for continuity of care, whereas the physician also becomes the primary care provider.

Depending on the program design, concierge medicine may be available for an additional fee. With this benefit, the patient obtains the physician's cell phone number and basically has the doctor "on-call" 24/7. For patients traveling out of the country, and often in different time zones, this can be extremely helpful.

Cost Factors

While the benefits have been shown to be substantial, there is a price associated with such an extensive exam. Companies or individuals should expect to pay anywhere from $1500 - $6000 per executive. This cost includes the doctor's time, a multitude of tests, and the follow-up appointment.


Some executive health programs offer corporate discounts if a significant number of executives will be obtaining the service. Most companies pay for the exams directly, but a few have begun to use reimbursement products such as those offered through a broker. With this option the company buys a plan coverage that includes executive health benefits in addition to other benefits such as dental, vision, prescription, mental, and durable medical equipment.  


The yearly reimbursement, up to $100,000, can be significant to the executive and make for a very enticing part of their compensation packet, while giving the corporation great tax benefits. Many companies, pay for the exam upfront and then are reimbursed for the portion their health benefit plan allows. Basically, benefit coordinators are finding new ways to pay for executive health programs.

In Conclusion

Corporate America is under a tremendous amount of stress and pressure to perform and keep the bottom line looking as good as possible. C-level executives and key people drive that bottom line through their hard work and good decisions. Keeping these individuals healthy and at the top of their game should be a top priority for all companies big and small.


Executive health programs play a principal role in helping executives achieve success by keeping them healthy. While not all executive health programs are the same, it is important to know the difference and find a program that fits the needs of your company. Research has shown a return on investment for such programs and companies are recognizing that keeping executives healthy is the first step in keeping the company healthy.

About the Author

Dr. Walter Gaman is Board Certified in Family Medicine in both the US and Canada. He is the managing partner of Executive Medicine of Texas (www.emtexas.com) and the author of the book STAY Young: 10 Proven Steps to Ultimate Health. Dr. Gaman and his partner Dr. Mark Anderson are the physician of choice for many high profile executives from around the globe. They are also available for speaking events on corporate health and wellness.