The best medicine money can buy

Executive health programs are increasingly part of high–end benefits packages.

From training to incentives, companies spend a great deal to get the most out of their top performers. Now, many corporations are also investing in their health.

Executive health programs, which include preventative treatments, nutrition and fitness — non-essential services that aren’t covered by government health plans — are increasingly part of high-end benefits packages. At the core of these programs are comprehensive annual exams, often conducted in posh surroundings, that test everything from clients’ cardiovascular fitness to their gait. It’s not your average physical: an appointment can last more than five hours, with samples sent to specialized foreign labs.

For many companies, the annual cost of $1,500 to $4,000 per person seems like good value for keeping the C-suite in good shape. “If you lose your leadership, it’s a dollar hit [for the company],” says Mike Kessel, president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic Canada, whose Toronto office sees about 3,000 patients a year. “These programs have been gaining in popularity to protect the assets.”

Executives, however, aren’t the only ones signing up. Clinics across the country report that an increasing proportion of their clientele are consumers paying out of pocket for cutting-edge diagnostics and first-class service. Sanjeev Sharma, CEO of Toronto-based Wellpoint Health Services, says, “You’re seeing a lot more individuals that are interested in pro-active health.”

International expertise
Many executive health clinics make relationships with top specialists a big selling point. At the Cleveland Clinic, for instance, “virtual visits” allow patients to consult more than 2,000 experts around the world, who can use scopes to complete examinations remotely via video-conferencing. At Scienta Health, the diagnostics are so specialized that blood samples from a single client are often sent to four different locations for assessment; 80% of samples are tested in state-of-the-art U.S. labs.

Fitness and Nutrition
Annual physicals often include rigorous fitness and nutrition assessments, including tests that measure strength, flexibility and posture. One of the more high-tech diagnostic tools is the Bod Pod — an egg-like contraption that measures the proportion of fat and lean tissue in patients, who sit inside clad in bathing suits and caps. Many executive clinics also have professional trainers and nutritionists on staff to create custom diet and exercise plans.

Amid growing concern about dementia and Alzheimer’s, executive health programs are devoting more attention to brain fitness. At Vancouver’s Copeman Healthcare Centre, clients can receive everything from a “baseline cognitive measure,” which identifies potential trouble spots, to “neuro-rehabilitation” aimed at treating cognitive damage and difficulties — all using the world’s most advanced diagnostic tools, says CEO Don Copeman.

Testing blood-sugar levels typically doesn’t detect irregularities until it’s too late, so some clinics go well beyond that to determine diabetes risk. Toronto-based Scienta Health, for example, uses “biomarkers” in blood, urine and saliva to assess a client’s risk of developing major diseases, and measures hormone levels and the body’s blood-sugar absorption to screen for pre-diabetes.

Genetic testing is growing in popularity among corporate plan members and ordinary consumers alike, says Sonya Singh, communications manager at Toronto’s Medcan Clinic. For $195, clients can check their predisposition to developing everything from diabetes to cancer. Couples planning a family, meanwhile, can determine through a $1,295 saliva test whether they are carriers of genetic defects that can cause diseases like cystic fibrosis and Tay-Sachs disorder.

While standard cardiovascular assessments like stress tests and electrocardiograms are generally included in the annual physical, clients can request more complex procedures for additional fees. State-of-the-art diagnostics include omega-3 fatty acid tests, 24-hour blood pressure monitoring and neck ultrasounds that measure the thickness of the carotid artery.

Service and convenience
Clinics catering to executives provide valet parking and surroundings more reminiscent of spas than doctors’ offices. One popular service is a medical concierge — a kind of treatment co-ordinator. In addition to answering any health questions, the concierge organizes procedures not offered locally, and finds specialists with the shortest wait times — even if it means countless calls to facilities around Canada and the U.S.

Skin cancer
Upon identifying a suspicious mole, the first question people ask is “How long has this been here?” says Alex Hanham, president of Medpoint Health Care Centre in London, Ont. To address such worries, Medpoint is one of several executive health clinics that offers “mole mapping.” Within minutes, specialized photographic equipment produces a full-body scan that can be used as a reference point to identify changes in mole colour or shape during future visits.