Preventive medicine for the C-suite

After getting off a 10-hour flight from Chile, then grabbing a one-hour nap before he showed up at the office on a Thursday morning, Jason Winkler knows well the demands of a leadership role.

Which is one reason why Winkler, chief talent officer at Deloitte Canada in Vancouver, appreciates the executive health-risk assessments provided to executives at his company.

“Any executive-level role comes with, in today’s world, a very high level of stress and generally habits that are not great for health and wellness,” he says. “Our partners in particular, as leaders in the business, if they are healthy both physically and engaged emotionally and balanced, it makes them better leaders and just more effective overall. So we view this as both a preventive and, I’d say, protective measure for what may arguably be our most important asset.”

These assessments started as benefits for senior employees but are now seen as also being a source of risk mitigation or risk management, says Joseph Lo, president of Medisys Corporate Health in Toronto, which provides the assessments for Deloitte Canada.

“It’s really about protecting and being proactive against the health of (firms’) most valuable human capital assets,” he says. “It’s actually much more of a perk, that’s actually the wrong way to look at it — this really is about getting a handle on the overall health composition of an executive team, of the senior team, and then taking proactive measures to actually improve that.”

That’s the whole notion of preventive medicine, says Lo.

“It’s about taking action from something as simple as lifestyle and behaviours early to prevent bad things from happening and, on the margins, finding bad things before they become serious. And being able to take action there.”

At Deloitte, the assessments are part of a broader wellness framework at the firm, says Winkler.

“It also sends a message to the partners that organizationally we take it seriously but also that we actually care about their health and wellness, and that’s an important message to send not only for executive-level assessment but our people at large see that we do that for senior folks.”

Greater consistency, data
Out of 9,000 employees in Canada, 900 of the partners are covered by the program, which was introduced several years ago, says Winkler. Previously, partners were required to confirm they had had a medical evaluation every two years.

“But the evaluations were relatively inconsistent across the country,” he says. “It was difficult to get any kind of data and report out on themes or emerging issues.”

The Medisys assessments are provided every two years for people under the age of 50 and every year for those over 50, unless there are other criteria, such as high risk factors, says Winkler.

Best practice is for people to be assessed once a year, says Lo.

“What’s important is we are assessing along the same parameters every year because it is very much about the data and collecting at the outset a kind of baseline in terms of what is that individual’s health profile and then measuring that, measuring changes against that over time.”

The two- to four-hour evaluations take place at Medisys facilities across the country or affiliated clinics, and provide a more accurate picture, says Winkler.

“We get data, obviously not at an individual level because that would be confidential, but thematically where are things changing, what are some of the things that we might want to look at in terms of supporting preventive type of activities, more than others.”

As well as, there’s data that would help Deloitte predict other elements of its benefits plans, he says, such as drug plans.

“It’s not perfect — obviously, you’re doing your best to kind of look at all the different pieces of that puzzle — but the executive assessments are definitely a piece that help us with our overall health, wellness and benefits priorities and investments.”

The assessment includes key diagnostics such as stress echo cardiograms and pelvic and abdominal ultrasounds, along with a full blood panel and a nutrition consultation, says Lo. Another important part of the evaluation is a 30- to 60-minute conversation with a physician.

“In that conversation, it’s the full spectrum — talking about physical health, talking about emotional health, mental health, etcetera, and it’s really an opportunity for the doctor to be a coach and help them set goals for the following year.”

The range of metrics includes levels of obesity, diabetic risks and heart risks, says Winkler. But Deloitte also looks at how new partners compare to more experienced partners, and how women compare to men.

“You can’t look at a single year change in data and then make too many assumptions but it does give us some indications on where we might support messaging, what kind of programs we might want to be offering… those are the kinds of patterns and themes that we see,” he says. “Causality isn’t necessarily easy because it depends on the size of the population but it gives us some facts to point to as opposed to pure anecdotes.”

And if an extreme case, such as cancer, is diagnosed, Medisys can act quickly to assist by providing referrals, says Winkler. And with earlier detection, treatment can start sooner than it would have otherwise.

“They’re the first line of how to go about doing things and then the partner moves into the medical system itself or other choices.”

Making an impact
After the assessment and diagnosis, there is the advisory piece where Medisys can sit down with the client company to discuss its risk profile against age and gender, and discuss ways to make an impact from a health perspective, including corporate programs that could incentivize good health, says Lo.

“What’s really valuable to the company is that they can see at an aggregate level how are they doing, and what are some of the themes that they can address at more of a corporate level.”

For the most part, the executives are comfortable with the process, says Winkler, with only a few reluctant to depart from their usual family doctor or network.

“Some partners prefer to use their own,” he says. “We don’t require use of Medisys but it is highly encouraged and we make it easy and it does provide a more thorough assessment than… a family doctor.”

As these assessments evolve, Lo says he is seeing more companies making the benefit mandatory and broadening the offering beyond the C-suite.

“We’re starting to see co-sponsorship and creative use of HRA dollars, that kind of thing, at the director level now as well, so it’s not just the exclusive domain of senior executives anymore, which is great.”

Sarah Dobson is the lead editor for Canadian HR Reporter, a sister publication of COS. This article originally appeared in the Sept. 7, 2015, issue of Canadian HR Reporter.