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Fitness-testing the top team

Executive health screening is big business. We look at the options for organisations who want to get an NCT cert for their leadership teams

“It might be offering them exercise classes or even just a space for meditation or relaxation. It’s about facilitating their executives to look after their health if they want to and making it as easy as possible. It’s all about empowering them.” Photograph: iStock

Workplace wellness programmes may be de rigueur for many companies, but increasingly what many organisations want to know is how healthy their employees – and especially their senior leaders – are to begin with. The always-on culture of modern working life can take its toll on the health of employees and for those in high-pressure, demanding roles with significant responsibility, their physical and mental health can suffer.

A study by Tufts University involving 200 patients, of which the majority were Fortune 500 executives, revealed that 73 per cent of the participants were living a sedentary lifestyle, putting them at risk of diabetes, heart disease, and many other conditions. To compound matters, 80 of the 200 patients studied were obese, while a significant number also had elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a large waist circumference.

Thankfully, businesses are now acutely conscious of the need to protect their human capital. Demand for health screening within organisations has grown substantially, with many private healthcare facilities and independent providers offering corporate screening programmes specifically for members of senior management. Many health insurers also offer health screening as part of their corporate plans.

It's not just their physical health but also their mental health. That's the danger so it's about trying to help them as much as possible

Medmark is just one of those providers. The area of employee wellbeing is one that is becoming more and more popular, with many businesses wishing to focus initial efforts on their leadership teams, says Paul O’Grady, Medmark wellness director.


“The executive part of that is an important area, and it’s important because they are the decision-makers. If you get buy-in from them, it’s easier to develop and roll out employee wellness programmes,” he explains.

For companies wishing to focus on the health of their employees, offering leadership teams a health check can often be the first step towards wider rollout of a workplace wellbeing programme, O’Grady says.

‘A tangible result’

“We often start with screening because they get a tangible result and a roadmap of what they should be focusing on when it comes to their health. If they are undergoing executive health screening and seeing the value in that, they are more likely to offer some kind of service to their employees or encourage the employee wellbeing programme.”

Targeting senior management for health screening is a no-brainer, O’Grady believes. “They are typically of the age where they have young families but may also be looking after their parents – that ‘sandwich’ generation, so to speak. They have both those pressures, as well as their job pressures. They are high-stress, time-poor people.”

This link between work stress and wellbeing – or lack thereof – has been well-documented. Also unsurprisingly, this perfect storm can lead to unsuitable lifestyle choices but O’Grady stresses the need for a holistic appraisal: “It’s not just their physical health but also their mental health. That’s the danger so it’s about trying to help them as much as possible.”

Dr Jennifer Grant from Beacon HealthCheck at the Beacon Hospital agrees there is an ever-increasing demand for health screening, and she sees businesses keen to appraise the health of their managers and executives. These are busy people – Beacon HealthCheck even opens at 7am in order to accommodate those who need to get to work by 11am, she says.

"Absolutely yes, the corporate sector singles out senior management or top-tier staff for health screening," says Grant.

It is commonplace for companies to do once-off in-house health screening, she adds. “This can be very helpful as patients will be able to compare results from their previous blood pressure measurements, cholesterol or diabetes blood tests etc. Knowing your baseline is a good place to start, then patients can hopefully make dietary and lifestyle changes and continue to monitor their results for improvement,” she says.

The elements of the Beacon HealthCheck screening are typical of the offerings at this level, although price can vary with the inclusion of additional tests. Grant explains that its health screening begins with a nurse assessment of height, weight, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, urine analysis, stool set, vision, hearing, and resting ECG, as well as a lung function test.

“We also do a very comprehensive blood analysis which includes renal, liver, bone profile, fasting lipids, HbA1c, fasting glucose, uric acid, full blood count, C-reactive protein, thyroid function and ferritin for over 40s, and prostate specific antigen (PSA) for men over 40,” she says, adding that they also carry out a full physical and lifestyle assessment with the GP on the day.

Beyond physical health

Indeed, a good screening service for executives will go beyond physical health parameters such as blood tests, BMI, and blood sugars, says O’Grady – mental health and stress, sleep, and diet should also be included. Knowing this data about your senior team can often indicate broader health trends across your employee base, he explains.

Executives come in, do their screen and then they go away and it is never mentioned again – that is a real problem

“That gives you a picture that you can compare to the norm and then pick up on trends within that group as to what may be an area to focus on. That becomes interesting beyond an individual getting a result,” he advises.

With general employee health screening, the Medmark team tends to pitch up onsite but screening the top brass takes place at one of its offices in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford or Sligo.

“With senior executives, we ask them to come to us, because we will be doing a broader range of tests,” O’Grady explains. “They get the works – it is a more expensive, more comprehensive screen.”

According to O’Grady, for some organisations health screening is simply “a tickbox exercise”, and whatever the result, no further action is taken.

“Executives come in, do their screen and then they go away and it is never mentioned again – that is a real problem,” he admits.

“People get their results, but they don’t actually change their behaviours. The screen might pick up that someone has a problem with their thyroid, or their iron levels, for example, they can take action on those, but typically it’s lifestyle problems, it’s obesity issues and cardiovascular risk. Often, people will ignore that. What we are interested in doing is having organisations take these results on board and try to encourage and work with their executives to change these behaviours.”

Follow-up is critical

Follow-up is critical, according to Grant. Beacon HealthCheck will help in referring the patient to a consultant, ordering a CT scan or asking the patient to discuss results with their own GP.

“If follow-up is needed, it is typically due to a pending investigation such as midstream urine result or an exercise stress test report. The patient is contacted by phone and/or in writing. Whatever the patient chooses, their own GP is always kept in the loop with results and consultant letters.”

Organisations can do a lot to preserve the physical and mental health of their senior leaders, O’Grady adds.

“It might be offering them exercise classes or even just a space for meditation or relaxation. It’s about facilitating their executives to look after their health if they want to and making it as easy as possible. It’s all about empowering them.”

Grant agrees that investing in the health of employees at every level is a wise move. “We invest time, money, mental and physical energy into our work, our home, our cars, our relationships and it’s important to do the same with our health.”

Danielle Barron

Danielle Barron is a contributor to The Irish Times