January 27, 2017

What it's like to undergo a $5,000 physical

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on August 8, 2019.

    Health systems are increasingly offering pricey "C-suite physicals"—comprehensive batteries of doctors' appointments scheduled over a couple days to maximize convenience for CEOs and other wealthy individuals, Sam Grobart writes for Bloomberg Businessweek.

    Q&A: Patients want convenience. Here's how you can deliver—before the competition does.

    If you are an executive, finding time to check on your health can be difficult. You might be able to squeeze in a visit with your primary care doctor, but making and attending medical check-ins with cardiologists, dermatologists, and other specialists could be too time-consuming.  

    But leading health systems, such as Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins Health System, offer programs designed to help "the busy executive on the go" or other wealthy individuals get top-notch medical care over a period of just a day or two. Grobart recently visited Mayo Clinic's Executive Health Program (EHP) to see how these programs work.

    Each EHP visit costs $5,000, and the cost doesn't include food, lodging, or airfare. But the program is popular: Admissions to EHP have grown from 10,887 patients in 2011 to 17,667 in 2015, Grobart reports.

    Stephanie Hines, the program's director, touched on the appeal of the EHP. "Think about the kinds of lives many of these executives lead," she said. "They travel all the time, they're out at business dinners—it's not a recipe for regular exercise and a good diet. ... Their visit here is a way to help get back on track."

    And in many cases, companies foot the cost for an executive. Losing top talent to illness or death is not only tragic but expensive. An EHP screening can give a company confidence that an executive is healthy. In all cases, however, medical information is released to an employer only if a patient gives the OK.

    A day full of appointments

    Patients in the EHP program start their first day by checking in to a dedicated floor in Mayo Clinic's main building at 7:30 a.m., Grobart writes. Patients get a small pager, and when it buzzes they go and meet a nurse.

    Patients undergo an initial screening by a nurse and check in with a doctor, just as they would for a normal physical. But then things get interesting.

    As Grobart writes, he spent the day visiting various specialists, guided by a Mayo Clinic app that kept track of his appointments, directed him around the health system's campus, let him talk with staff, and allowed him to view and email his medical records as they were updated. Over the course of two days, Grobart received a cardiac stress test, took a hearing test, underwent an electrocardiogram, and had X-rays taken. "I met with a cardiologist, a dermatologist, an ophthalmologist, a physical therapist—pretty much all the 'ists,'" he writes.

    Patients can also pay an additional $10,000 to have their genome fully sequenced or $3,000 to learn how more than 250 medications interact with their body at the genetic level. It's pricey, but Grobart says Mayo is working to bring those prices down substantially in the future.

    Grobart came away feeling the program provided a lot of value. "The convenience of it all—and the calming psychological effect of knowing you're under the watchful eye of a Mayo Clinic physician, who one assumes is a really, really good physician—has a value that's hard to quantify," he explains. "By the end of my visit, I felt reassured by the care I received and was certainly aware of the steps I needed to take to further ensure the good health I've enjoyed" (Grobart, Bloomberg Businessweek, 1/18).

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