A CEO’s Guide to Health and Wellness Programs

CEOs who are adept at monitoring and caring for the health and well-being of their companies are not always on the ball when it comes to their own health. Some theorize that they don’t fully understand the risks or are in denial about their own mortality.

Dr. Walter Gaman, partner at Executive Medicine of Texas believes it’s a lot simpler than that: They literally don’t have time. “C-level executives are highly intelligent and they are aware of how important their health is. They’re just too busy to get to it.”

To be sure, running a global business has never been more demanding. Fifteen-hour days and back-to-back meetings force executives to put exercise on the back burner. Grueling road trips that continue for days or weeks at a time leave few options for healthy eating. As the days get longer, sleep suffers and mounting stress takes its toll on the body. That leaves CEOs paradoxically at greater-than-ever risk for heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses, but with less time than they have ever had to deal with it.

“What we want is for them not to wait for the event to get religion. Let’s get to it beforehand because there are no do-overs in health.

“For a lot of people, when they have a major health event, suddenly time opens up a bit,” says Kevin Dunsky, MD, director of the Executive Health Program of Mount Sinai Heart at The Mount Sinai Hospital. “What we want is for them not to wait for the event to get religion. Let’s get to it beforehand because there are no do-overs in health.”

Mt. Sinai’s executive health program is one of a growing number that cater to the busy manager by packing a smorgasbord of tests, screenings, nutrition and fitness counseling into a single, highly efficient day. When patients leave they take with them an overview of their health and recommendations for next steps to address specific health issues that were uncovered, as well as tools to improve their risk via diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes.

Over the past decade or so, executive health programs have proliferated, giving CEOs literally dozens to choose from. The following five questions can help you narrow the field and find the executive health program best suited to your needs.

1. IS THE PROGRAM AFFILIATED WITH A WELL-KNOWN MEDICAL CENTER? The integration with a hospital, university or other robust medical center gives clients immediate access to an array of top specialists and the latest in medical technology. It also saves considerable time if a physical uncovers something that needs a closer look by specialists—say, a skin lesion that requires a dermatological consult.

According to Dr. Richard S. Lang, vice chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic and a physician in the executive health program, it’s that kind of coordination that separates real expertise in the field from what has increasingly become a commodity—the executive physical. “That’s the no-brainer,” says Lang. “The real-brainer is, what happens after that? Really well done executive health programs have the rest of the medical expertise available and can mobilize it that day,” he adds, noting that Cleveland Clinic, which was founded in 1921, boasts more than 3,000 physicians and scientists and integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education.

2. ARE PHYSICALS CUSTOMIZED? While some programs give the same standard tests to all patients, others customize based on age, gender, medical and family history, and other risk factors. “The key to any good executive health program is that it’s not cookie cutter,” says Lang. “If you take five executives from the same company, they will have five different protocols based on those factors.”

You should be asked to fill out a comprehensive medical history questionnaire well in advance of your visit and, more importantly, participate in an intake call with the physician who will coordinate your care. “That happens four to six weeks in advance of their visit, so we can go over the questionnaire, make sure we address any concerns and prioritize what they are going to do on the day,” says Dr. Lorrie Elliott, medical director of Northwestern Executive Health at Northwestern Medicine. This gives you an opportunity to let the doctor know if you’ve been having any symptoms or problems in any specific area and to make sure an appointment with a specialist is scheduled for that day.

Once the lab work and screenings are done, you should receive a customized risk profile, based on the results, your age, family history and lifestyle. “Our goal is not only to give you a current state of where you are now, but to say, here is how you can maximize your health for the next 30 years,” says Elliott.

3. WHAT IS THE PROGRAM’S TESTING PHILOSOPHY? Some programs will test you for everything under the sun. That may sound good, but it may not ultimately be what you need or even what’s best for you, says Elliott. Northwestern, for example, does not order up scans for arterial blockages unless the patient fails the stress test or presents with other symptoms. “Because let’s say you do a C.T. scan and find you have two 10-percent blockages,” she says. “We won’t start you on meds for that and we don’t really know how to follow up on it, so you end up with this information that doesn’t change your management and then you just get anxious about it.”

Over-testing can also lead to more invasive tests that are often unnecessary, she adds. “Look for a program that practices ‘evidence-based medicine.’ And beware of over-testing.” Other patients, however, will only feel better once they’ve tested for everything and come up negative or dealt with the results. And some problems lurking beneath an asymptomatic surface require a course correction, says Gaman. “We’ve seen patients who had no symptoms or pain, but ended up having critical blockages.” If a small blockage is found, the patient may not need surgery or stenting, but would certainly benefit from intensive dietary counseling to prevent the small blockage from becoming a life-threatening one.

4. WHAT KIND OF WELLNESS/PREVENTION COUNSELING IS OFFERED? Education is as important as discovery, and you should leave any executive physical armed with the information and tools you need to improve your risk profile for the future. Look for a program that provides fitness tests, customized nutritional counseling and other consultations for healthy living. Mayo Clinic, for example, includes stress management consulting. “Stress impacts the immune system, which then impacts not only whether you get that cold, but how your body fights off cancer,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, director of Mayo’s executive and international health program.

For CEOs, who are tasked with running complex businesses that employ hundreds or thousands of employees and who must cater to demanding stakeholders, it’s impossible to say, “reduce your stress,” says Faubion. “You can’t always change the external stresses happening. You can’t change who needs to be fired. But you might be able to change the way you react to that stress. It’s learning to reframe things.”

5. DO YOU HAVE A PRIMARY CARE DOCTOR OR ARE YOU LOOKING FOR ONE? Most programs provide executive physicals and will then deliver all testing data and reports to your primary care doctor for follow-up. “But often your doctor won’t have the time to read the results, let alone manage them,” says Bret Jorgenson, CEO of MDVIP, a personalized healthcare program with a network of 870 doctors around the country who work exclusively with MDVIP’s more than 250,000 members. Each of the doctors has a network of specialists he or she calls on for follow-on treatment when needed, and MDVIP maintains partnerships with medical institutions around the country, including the Cleveland Clinic, MD Anderson and Memorial Sloan Kettering.

One of the big selling points at MDVIP is access to doctors. While most doctors require a visit to give feedback, at MDVIP, patients can text questions to their doctors and get a quick response back. Patients can also get in to see doctors anywhere in the country on short notice, which was a big draw for Greg Lucier, CEO of NuVasive, an $800 million medical device company.

“I travel about 60% to 70% of the time. So the national footprint was very important to me,” he says. Perhaps most critically, the program you choose should have plenty of experience dealing with CEOs, their unique stressors and their tendency to put their companies, clients and employees ahead of themselves.

As too many have learned the hard and painful way, losing a CEO to a sudden health event is not only tragic for the victim and his or her family, but devastating for the company. “The most important thing I can convey to executives,” says Lang, “is that their most important client, most important business project and most important matter at hand is their own personal health.”

With such a wide variety of executive health programs available it can be hard to know where to start. The capsule descriptions that follow offer a look at the facilities and services offered by some of the top offerings around the country.

Cleveland Clinic has decades of experience with the unique health challenges faced by CEOs. The integrated, head-to-toe evaluation includes screenings and risk assessments for numerous conditions and offers priority access to more than 120 medical experts, as needed. The Women’s Executive Health Exam focuses on unique gender-based health considerations. C | A | W | F clevelandclinic.org

You won’t feel rushed at Cooper Clinic, where physicians see no more than three patients per day, spending up to two hours consulting with each patient to discuss the same-day exam and lab results. Cooper Hotel also offers out-of-towners respite after a day at the clinic. C | W | F cooperaerobics.com

Patients at Johns Hopkins feel pampered in a new executive lounge with leather seating, coffee bar and open views of the Baltimore skyline. Throughout the day, executives have access to private meeting rooms, lockers with charging stations and posh private bathrooms with heated floors and rain-head showers. C | A | W | F hopkinsmedicine.org

At Mayo Clinic’s program, in existence for more than 40 years, executives choose from one-, two- or three-day itineraries, with each patient receiving an individual “game plan” for healthy living and expedited access to Mayo’s wealth of experts in all medicine subspecialties. C | A | W | F mayoclinic.org

As a member of MDVIP, a CEO receives not only a comprehensive annual physical, but year-long care by their physician, including 24/7 access via email and mobile phone. The program’s national footprint means that CEOs having a health issue while traveling can get in the same day to see any of MDVIP’s doctors. C | W | F mdvip.com

Mt. Sinai’s program offers executives two tiers of comprehensive evaluations: the corporate executive physical, which can be completed in half a day; and the premier full-day program that includes additional assessments in ophthalmology, dermatology, audiology and pulmonary function, among others. All patients are evaluated by senior-level physicians at Mt. Sinai. C | A | W mountsinai.org

NY Executives at this one-day program receive a customized itinerary in advance and access to a private lounge and fully equipped conference room to use between appointments. A concierge can coordinate any additional appointments needed same-day with one or more of the more than 5,000 affiliated physicians. Members pay an annual administrative fee, utilizing insurance for all clinical services. C | A | W nyp.org



C.J. Prince :C.J. Prince is a regular contributor to Chief Executive and other business publications.