Is an Executive Physical Exam Worth the Cost?

by | Aug 12, 2022

Maintaining a strong and healthy body is important for everyone, but it’s especially crucial for executives.

Not only do they have to manage a hectic work schedule, but they also need to be in top physical condition to avoid health problems down the road.

An executive health exam can help identify any potential health risks before they become serious issues. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at executive health exams and discuss why they may be worth the cost.

Leadership Today Is More Stressful Than Ever Before

Before even joining the C-suite, most high-level executives have occupied various important roles within their companies. They’re used to being in charge and making decisions that will affect not only themselves but also others.

As important as these skills are, the legacy of work-related stresses associated with these roles can lead to some serious health problems if not managed well.

The turnover in CEOs alone is exceptional, with 64% leaving the role before their fourth anniversary on the job and 40% not even making it past the initial 18 months.

The unprecedented pressure and stress associated with executive management positions can take a toll on one’s physical health. In fact, studies have shown that chronic stress can lead to various health problems such as heart disease, obesity, anxiety, and depression. 

 

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Common health risks that executives face

Cardiovascular disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every four deaths in the US is caused by heart disease.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that can lead to cardiovascular disease. The CDC reports that about 75 million adults in the US have high blood pressure.

Stroke

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked or bursts. A stroke can result in permanent brain damage, disability, or even death. According to the American Stroke Association, someone in the US has a stroke every 40 seconds.

Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition that occurs when the body cannot properly process glucose, or blood sugar. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health complications, including heart disease, blindness, and kidney failure. The CDC reports that more than 30 million people in the US have diabetes.

Obesity

Obesity is a condition in which a person has an unhealthy amount of body fat. Obesity increases the risk for several chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes. According to the CDC, more than one-third of adults in the US are obese.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition in which the force of blood against vessel walls is too high. Over time, this can damage the vessels and lead to serious health complications, including heart attack and stroke. The American Heart Association reports that nearly half of all adults in the US have high blood pressure.

High cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of fat that can build up in the arteries and lead to heart disease. High levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) can build up in the arteries and form plaque, leading to narrowed or blocked arteries.

While these health risks are common enough that everyone should be screened for them, executives are especially vulnerable to them.

Groundbreaking Executive Health Study

The groundbreaking Rippe Health Assessment Study of Senior Executives showed that:

  • 73% were overly sedentary and therefore predisposed to heart disease, diabetes, and general ill-health.
  • ‍40% were obese.
  • ‍100% of the obese executives had at least one other risk factor for cardiovascular disease, 86% had two others, and 60% had at least three others. For context, consider that 55% of all heart disease patients present with just two risk factors.
  • Additional findings included a high number of executives with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure and a large waist circumference, boosting their likelihood of a coronary event.
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All of these risks can be mitigated with early detection and proper treatment, but they can often go undetected until it’s too late.

It’s clear from the numbers above that the C-suite of most major companies is at high risk for, at the very least, cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

The Impact of Poor Executive Health

While the results of the Rippe Health Assessment Study of Senior Executives are concerning enough on an individual level, the impact of poor health in a company’s executive team can be far more wide-reaching than many expect.

When the health of a company’s executives is at risk, so too is the future of the company itself. As we’ve seen time and again in recent years, the untimely death or incapacitation of a key executive can have devastating consequences for a business.

A study of market reactions to unexpected CEO deaths, 1950–2009 showed that modern stakeholders increasingly view CEOs and other high-level executives as key drivers of the success of a company. Poor health, and in the worst-case scenario unexpected death can send stock prices tumbling as investors lose confidence.

While sudden death might seem like a remote possibility, it’s worth underlining that the Rippe Health Assessment Study showed that‍ 40% of executives were obese and ‍100% of the obese executives had at least one other risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Fatalities aside, consistent poor health of the executive team can lead to increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, and a host of other problems that affect the bottom line.

 

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Downtime in the C-suite can have a domino effect on the rest of the company. When key executives are absent, stressed, or fatigued, the number of key effective decision-makers drops, leading to gridlock and a decrease in productivity.

The loss of critical leaders can lead to more than internal demoralization and destabilization, it can undermine a company’s reputation, image, and bottom line.

In addition to the issues of poor physical health, the stressful nature of an executive position can lead to a range of mental health problems.

According to the Mayo Clinic, around 90% of executives struggle with finding an effective work/life balance and 40% deal with depression brought on by work-related stress.

It is essential for the mental well-being of an executive to have regular check-ups and health screenings to ensure they are physically and mentally prepared to lead their company.

The reality is that protecting the valuable human capital represented by executive leadership is essential to the health and continued success of any company.

In fact, boosting the overall health of executives has been shown to save a company an average of $30,000 per year per employee.

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An analysis of the corporate wellness program at one large firm showed that for every dollar spent on the program, the organization saved nearly $4 in healthcare costs for its 56,000 employees.

 

Given the clear downsides of allowing a culture of poor health to exist among executives, it makes good business sense for companies to promote and encourage executive physicals as a way to catch health problems early before they have a chance to wreak havoc.

What is an Executive Physical Exam?

Given the high stakes involved, it’s no wonder that more and more companies are starting to offer executive physicals as a way to help their leaders stay healthy and avoid potential disasters down the road.

These comprehensive exams go beyond standard check-ups to provide a thorough assessment of an individual’s health, using state-of-the-art equipment and techniques.

During an executive physical, a team of specialists will take a complete medical history and perform a series of tests designed to catch potential problems early.

This may include everything from standard blood work and vision tests to more sophisticated screenings for heart disease and cancer.

 

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Why are Executive Physicals Important?

As our understanding of the links between lifestyle and health has grown, it has become increasingly clear that many chronic diseases can be prevented or delayed by making healthy choices.

By identifying risk factors and addressing them early, executive physicals can help executives stay healthy and productive.

Given the number of potential health risks that the sedentary but highly stressful lifestyle of many executives face, an executive physical can provide valuable peace of mind and early treatment for common mental and physical health problems.

What Does an Executive Physical Typically Include?

An executive physical typically includes a comprehensive medical history review, a physical examination, and a variety of tests.

The specific components of an executive physical will vary depending on the individual’s age, health status, family history, and lifestyle factors.

However, common elements of an executive physical may include:

  • A complete blood count (CBC) to check for anemia or infection
  • A cholesterol test to assess heart disease risk
  • A fasting blood sugar test to screen for diabetes
  • Blood pressure and weight measurement
  • An electrocardiogram (EKG) to check for heart problems
  • Spirometry to assess lung function

In addition to these basic tests, executive physicals often also include more specialized tests such as:

  • Stress testing on a treadmill or with echocardiography
  • Screening for colon cancer with a colonoscopy
  • A pap smear and pelvic exam for women
  • A prostate exam for men
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The purpose of an executive physical is to provide a comprehensive assessment of an individual’s health and identify any potential problems early.

By catching health problems early, executive physicals can help prevent serious illness and improve the chances of successful treatment.

Mental health assessments are also a common part of executive physicals. During these assessments, executive physical patients are able to speak to a mental health professional about any concerns they may have.

This can help to identify potential mental health issues early and get executive physical patients the help they need.

What Should an Executive Physical include?

In addition to the basics listed above, a solid and non-invasive preventative screening panel will focus on the following areas:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke Risk
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Peripheral artery disease

Areas of Focus

ECHOCARDIOGRAM

  • Determine heart efficiency by calculating the ejection fraction of your left ventricular.
  • Get insights into your blood pressure and valve integrity by assessing the left and right cardiac compartments (atria and ventricles).
  • Examine the efficiency of the cardiac valves.
  • Check for increased blood pressure in the lungs.

CAROTID

  • Check blood flow passages to the brain — the lumen of the right and left carotid arteries.
  • Spot early disease by examining the thickness of carotid walls.
  • What’s your chronological age vs. the aging of your arteries? This test will assign an age of your carotids to determine if you are older on the inside than the outside.

ABDOMINAL AORTA

  • A silent killer, aneurysms along the length of the aorta from the heart to the abdomen can go undetected for years.

ABDOMINAL ORGANS

  • Observe the gallbladder, liver, pancreas, spleen, and kidneys.

PERIPHERAL VASCULAR FLOW

  • Determine the efficiency of the veins and arteries in your legs – great information if you tend to have swelling or varicose veins.

ORAL CULTURE

  • Bacterial profiles of the mouth can have an impact on heart health.

STOOL CULTURES

  • Understand the function and needs of your intestinal biome. The intestines are said to be the “second brain” due to their function in neurotransmitter production and biochemical regulation
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Unnecessary exposure to radiation, such as CT scans, MRIs, and similar tests are potentially harmful and contribute to cancer rates in a percentage of patients, and therefore not indicated for preventative medicine. The best types of executive physicals forego these types of tests and use the latest innovations to examine your body’s systems in a non-invasive and safe manner.

What are the Benefits of an Executive Physical?

There is a huge range of benefits that come with having an executive physical for both the individual and the company as a whole.

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On an individual level, an executive physical can:

  • Help to improve overall health and wellbeing – By ensuring that any potential health issues are identified and treated early, executive physicals can help to improve the overall health and wellbeing of employees.
  • Reduce stress levels – With regular check-ups and a focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, executive physicals can help to reduce stress levels in employees.
  • Identify potential health risks early – Executives are often too busy to pay attention to early warning signs of serious illness, but a comprehensive physical exam can pick up on these sooner rather than later.
  • Lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses – By catching potential health problems early, executive physicals can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses.

For companies, some of the benefits of an executive physical program include:

  • Improved employee morale – Happy and healthy employees are more likely to be productive employees.
  • Increased productivity – Employees who are in better health are more productive.
  • Reduced absenteeism – Employees who are healthy are less likely to take sick days.
  • Improved employee retention – Happy and healthy employees are more likely to stay with a company.
  • Reduced healthcare costs – With fewer sick days and less need for time off for appointments, executives who have had an executive physical will cost the company less in healthcare costs over time.

Can Executive Physicals be harmful or wasteful?

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), executive physicals can be both harmful and wasteful, with much room to improve the delivery of even basic primary care, much less whole-executive care, and well-being, tailored to an executive’s unique needs.

Both publications convey that even organizations with the largest reputation and brand recognition offer executive physical packages that are often bloated with unnecessary and potentially harmful preventative testing.

So, are Executive Physical Exams Worth the Cost?

The short answer is, “yes, they provide valuable insight,” but as we’ve discussed in other articles, annual executive physicals are also severely lacking in several areas:

  • They are often conducted at distant institutions, where the executive will have only annual contact or never see the physician again.
  • Great testing and the insights gleaned from that only make a difference if an executive changes their behavior. The inspiring lasting behavioral modification takes more connection than an annual on-day visit or 7-10 day retreat can provide.
  • As the HBR article mentioned above, executives should have a primary doctor that is responsible for examining, testing, and interpreting tests for executives, because the primary doctor relationship is what will provide the highest level of care and maximize the potential benefit to executive leaders.

Annual executive physicals, as typically practiced, do provide valuable insight. Exponential value is added when there is a shift from executive physicals to whole-executive care with doctors dedicated to leaders all year long.

By investing in the health of their employees, companies can improve productivity, morale, and retention rates. With so much to gain, it’s no wonder that more and more businesses are offering executive physicals to their employees. It’s exciting to know that such companies are in a position to supercharge the value they deliver to executives by providing them with a personal doctor and wellness team at the cost of a comprehensive annual executive exam or annual executive retreat.

If you’re an executive or a company considering executive physicals for your executive leadership team, we encourage you to learn more about how to get far better care compared to the status quo.

We also invite you to book an appointment to discuss how we can help your executive leaders. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have and how to discuss how we can support you or your team on a path to sound and long-lasting health.