Executive physicals: CEO illness buster and lucrative business line

JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon's recent throat cancer diagnosis shines a light on a perk offered to many top executives and available via some of the nation's leading hospitals: the executive physical.

The physicals, which cost anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000 and can last as long as an entire day, include a comprehensive medical history review and physical exam, intricate blood work and screenings for early detection of cancer, heart disease and other serious conditions. That early detection may have saved Dimon's life, according to Businessweek. The article notes that the top-of-the-line physicals are "perk-uisite" that shareholders embrace in order to keep their company's highest executives in good health.

Many of the nation's leading hospitals offer the elite programs, including Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins Medicine and Cleveland Clinic. The programs allow busy execs to see different specialists in one day and receive sophisticated tests and procedures.

Unlike standard physicals, the executive physicals may have CEOs check in to private suites with a private bath and shower, freshly brewed coffee and a lunch menu that can include wild-caught salmon or grilled chicken breast, with no waiting times for their customized exams, according to a 2013 Crain's Chicago Business article.

"This is about an executive's ability to work extensive hours across different time zones, and that makes this visit different from the kind of visit when someone calls and says they have a cold and need an antibiotic," Mary Capelli-Schelary, medical director of the executive wellness program at Loyola University Health System in Chicago, said in the article.

But a 1999 opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine calls into question the value of the best physical money can buy. Brian Rank, M.D., of HealthPartners claimed in his article, "Executive Physicals--Bad Medicine on Three Counts," that the physicals reinforce a misperception that costlier is better and it implies that these highly-paid executives are more worthy of personalized treatment than others.

"Much good work is being done these days to identify and reduce healthcare disparities that are based on income, race, geography, or other demographic factors," he wrote.

However, he said the executive physical runs counter to these efforts, suggesting companies are justified to pay for these comprehensive exams to maintain the health of their executives, while their other employees receive other care.

But hospitals that offer the services argue the physicals are cost-effective because it makes it easier for busy business leaders to fit them in, according to American Express. Instead of vague recommendations, patients receive a bulleted list of specific actions to take to improve their health.

To learn more:
- read the Businessweek article
- here's the Crain's Chicago Business article
- check out Rank's NEJM opinion piece (subscription required)
- read the American Express article
- here's info about exec physical programs at the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and the Cleveland Clinic