It’s 7:45 a.m., and several executives are gathered on the 15th floor of a downtown office building. The clinic is busier than ever these days. That’s a reflection of the overall increase in the number of executives whose health care is being looked after by their employers. 59.1% of CEOs and 55.5% of senior executives were offered an annual medical exam as part of their compensation package last year — up from 43.6% and 42.2%, respectively, in the year 2000.

Medcan alone has grown 50% in each of the past two years, and now handles 50 to 60 appointments a day. Considered Canada’s largest executive health care provider, Medcan has a client roster of 27,000, which includes managers from every major bank, law office and consulting firm in Toronto. Its main competitors, MDS Executive Health Services and Montreal-based Medisys, are also doing brisk business. All three organizations have affiliate clinics in major Canadian cities, allowing them to co-ordinate the health care of national companies.

The men and women assembled in Medcan’s waiting room on this morning will spend about four hours at the clinic, as they undergo a full-throttle executive physical that makes the annual work-up provided by most family physicians seem perfunctory, indeed. The day begins in a locker room that’s a smaller version of what you’d find in a posh health club. After changing into your gym clothes, you leave a vial containing a sample of your urine on the back of the toilet, which spares you the embarrassment of handing it to a nurse. Then you’re escorted through a series of tests
that would take months to arrange individually, including an abdominal ultrasound, chest X-ray, blood work, a treadmill stress test, vision and hearing tests, a half-hour interview with the doctor and even a brief massage. Men and women also get gender-specific tests using sophisticated scanning technology that family doctors can only dream of.

A medical exam that last four hours? Are you joking? Actually, no. Medcan’s president, John Mozas, points out that two-thirds of the men and women who come to the clinic for a comprehensive health assessment do so on their employer’s dime, and many big businesses make the annual examination mandatory.

“If you head up retail banking, for example, the company wants to make sure you’re healthy, because indirectly you’ve got thousands of people reporting to you. It’s important not only for your health, but the health of the organization,” he says.

That’s why so many corporations don’t flinch at the $2,695.00-a-person price tag for Medcan’s services. Firms invest a lot of money in their top-tier managers and they suffer big losses in productivity if serious illness, or even premature death, takes them out of the boardroom.

It’s very costly to replace senior executives, so this is a kind of risk-management approach to helping executives continue service to a company for a longer period of time.

In the past, many large firms gave this responsibility to a medical director — a physician the company kept on the payroll. But while an appointment with the medical director may have felt like an onerous duty thrust upon employees by a paternalistic corporation, a visit to an executive health clinic is increasingly seen as something of a perk, almost a status symbol.

Fred Jaques, president of Dare Foods in Kitchener, Ont., is one of nine executives at the company — all men aged 40 to 63 — who make an annual trip to Medcan. Dare has offered the benefit to its top brass for four years, and it’s something Mr. Jaques says fits with the culture of the family-owned company.

“It’s about contributing to the wellness of our executive team, and it’s been very important. This past year a couple of our members have had major issues uncovered that they weren’t aware of, so there’s been a lot of, “Thanks, this has really helped.”