Examining Executive Health
Personal health and wellness is usually not the first thing on a busy executive’s mind. His or her day is likely taken up with endless meetings, conference calls and decisions that need to be made.
Many executives maintain heavy travel schedules and work long hours, which can leave little time for exercise, eating healthy and getting enough sleep. Managing a staff, a budget and numerous competing demands will often trump carving out time to go to a series of inconvenient doctor’s appointments.
What’s the bottom line? Some business executives aren’t very good at slowing down to spend a little time managing their own health. They probably haven’t had time to read the latest story in a business magazine about the elusive “work-life balance.”
Most companies don’t have a CWO—a chief wellness officer.
An executive health exam offers one option for many business leaders. Rather than having to schedule a series of scattered appointments over the course of weeks or months, most executive health programs are designed to provide a complete, comprehensive exam in a single day. Executives who use such programs are grateful for the efficiency.
The general outline of most executive health programs is similar, beginning and ending with an in-depth private consultation with an internist. In between, the patient has a series of tests likely to include exams assessing vision and hearing, establishing a blood profile and determining cardiac and vascular function. At the end of the day, patients will receive recommendations about steps that they should take to maintain or improve their health.
In many cases, the client is not the executive. Many companies have contracts with health providers to handle exams for key executives. Most providers don’t need to do much advertising for the executive health programs, which often draw customers based on word of mouth.
An executive’s condition is clearly important to a company and its bottom line. Companies can be blindsided by the health crisis of one of its top leaders.
In one recent high-profile case, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz suffered a heart attack just a month after taking the top job at his company last fall. The incident prompted lots of speculation and media coverage about the health of both Munoz and the company. Munoz returned as CEO this spring after receiving a heart transplant, but was off the job for five months.
New health options
Minnesota companies and business executives have an increasing number of options. In addition to existing programs, two health providers have launched new executive health programs to meet demand.
The newest local offering comes from the University of Minnesota, with its just-opened Signature Health and Wellness program.
“We make a point of not calling it an executive health program,” says Dr. William Conroy, medical director for the Signature program. “This could be anybody,” he says, explaining that it’s “not always just executives.”
Conroy says that the program was launched in response to inquiries from alumni and business executives who wondered why the university didn’t offer such a program.
The goal is to make the program “convenient and efficient and comprehensive,” says Conroy, and it’s designed to be completed in one day.
The Signature program is based in dedicated space within the new University of Minnesota Health Clinics and Surgery Center building, a $165 million project that opened in February.
“There was this brand-new state-of-the-art building with this space picked out,” says Conroy. “They were ready for it.”
The new building includes doctors practicing in 37 specialties, which could be important if a Signature patient needs a referral for a more serious or complicated issue.
The Signature program offers two options for the comprehensive exam: the Gold Program, which costs $3,000, and the Maroon Program, which costs $2,200. The Gold plan includes a fitness evaluation as part of the program.
Executives who may be looking for some extra pampering can find programs across the country that combine the comprehensive health care exam with a spa or resort setting, effectively turning a medical appointment into a mini-vacation. Don’t expect that at the U of M.
“We’re not pretending to be a resort,” says Conroy. “We’re an academic medical center.”
Conroy notes the Signature program has strong support from Dr. Brooks Jackson, dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School. Jackson came to the university from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine, which also offers an executive health plan.
“He feels like it’s a great opportunity to showcase what we have here,” says Conroy. “We like to believe it will be a destination for people outside of the Twin Cities.”
Dr. John Misa says that Park Nicollet’s executive health program began in the late 1980s, a time when there were fewer such options. (St. Louis Park-based Park Nicollet and Bloomington-based HealthPartners merged in 2013; Park Nicollet clinics continue to use the Park Nicollet name.)
Misa says that stress management is a primary issue for many executive-level patients, but that most are grateful for the chance to take stock of their health.
“Within kind of that upper-executive echelon, we need to have particular focus on stress management, exercise and wellness. How do they stay healthy if they’re working many hours a day?” says Misa. “I think people find it really refreshing to address the issues that are most important to them.”
Misa says the majority of patients come to the executive health program through contracts that companies have with Park Nicollet, and the program can be tailored to the schedule of the company or its executive. “We do the executive physical in about half a day,” says Misa, senior medical director of primary care at Park Nicollet Health Services. “One of the hallmarks of the program is we have to be flexible. We will work around the employer’s needs at all times.”
Misa declines to disclose Park Nicollet’s fees for its executive exam, but says that additional tests don’t increase the price of the program.
“We don’t say you’re going to get more tests because you’re paying more,” says Misa.
“What you pay shouldn’t influence my medical decision-making.”
Specific tests for each exam vary based on the patient, says Misa.
“It all depends upon the history and the physical that we’re doing that time with that patient. We don‘t go in with a preset list,” says Misa. “We stick to our usual evidence-based screening tools.”
Misa says that many of the executive health clients are already Park Nicollet patients. That’s helpful if a patient needs a referral to a specialist for additional consultation. He says that it’s important for executive programs to be anchored within solid provider networks.
“These programs are often only as good as the program in which they’re embedded,” says Misa.
Executive health newcomer
Robbinsdale-based North Memorial Health Care is a newcomer in the field, having launched its executive health program in the spring of 2016. The program is based in the western suburbs in North Memorial’s new Minnetonka Medical Center, a clinic offering numerous specialties, which opened in the fall of 2014.
“This is new for North Memorial,” says Dr. Wendy Shear, medical director for the Minnetonka Medical Center. “We saw the need in town to start an executive health program. A lot of executives live out in this area.”
Shear notes that the new building’s design included an area of the center that is exclusively used by the executive health program. Common themes for these patients are stress, a lack of work-life balance and less than ideal eating and sleeping habits, Shear says.
“One of our main goals is really health and wellness and prevention. They haven’t figured out how to build that into their day,” says Shear. “We really want to look at the whole person.”
Doctors working in the North Memorial program say that interest is rising.
“The program has largely been growing through word of mouth,” says Dr. Fritz Arnason, who sees patients in the executive health program. “Our business has been brisk and it’s getting more so.” Each successive month the program’s numbers have grown, he says.
But Arnason notes that not all of the patients are corner-office business leaders. Other patients may simply decide that they want a comprehensive exam as they hit a milestone birthday; sometimes, the recent death of a friend or neighbor has prompted concerns about their health.
The North Memorial program has three basic pricing levels: Platinum ($3,500), Silver ($1,300) and Silver Light ($1,000).
But Dr. Merritt Beh, who also works in the executive health program, says that exams can be tailored to best meet the needs of each individual. Some patients may need tests that would not be necessary for others, so prices vary.
“We can really customize packages,” says Beh.
North Memorial also started offering a concierge medicine program, which offers 24/7 access to a physician for an annual fee. “It has been very popular on the East and West coast,” says Shear.
Beh says that it’s not uncommon to meet with patients who are reaching middle age but don’t have a primary care doctor because they have never made health a priority.
Arnason says that the end-of-day session to discuss exam results can offer patients a break from having to be in charge of anything.
“There is the last hour of the day when the executive is with Dr. Beh or myself,” says Arnason. “This is their 60 minutes to just be a normal guy or woman again.”
Rochester’s Mayo Clinic has a long-standing executive health program that stretches back “several decades,” says Dr. Stephanie Hines. Mayo Clinic offers the services in three locations: Rochester; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Jacksonville, Florida.
“It is really a national program,” says Hines. “We get executives from all over the country.”
Hines says that the cost of the program can range from $2,000 to nearly $10,000, depending on what each patient needs. “For the younger executive who’s under 40, the testing is much less expensive,” says Hines.
She says that most exams can be completed in one day, but can stretch into a second or third day depending on recommended tests or consultations with specialists.
“We do our best to try to focus the conversation on what that individual needs to do and why,” says Hines, noting that they review family history risk factors. “We try to individualize each discussion.”
“Some people come to us and they say, ‘I know I haven’t been taking care of myself,’ ” says Hines. “They work long hours, they have lots of responsibilities and worries and so they put themselves on the back burner. They’re not managing their stress as well as they would like to.”
If an executive does not see other doctors regularly, the importance of an executive exam can be amplified if it leads to the discovery of a serious condition.
“There are definitely cases where we find something serious,” says Hines.
For some patients, the exams become an annual tradition.
“Some corporations invest in their company and their staff to make sure they’re performing at their peak,” says Hines. “Many do come year after year.”
Burl Gilyard is TCB’s senior writer.