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Wealthy patients indulge in luxury checkups

/ Source: The Associated Press

When he turned 50, Steven Jackson decided it was time for a complete physical. But instead of going to his usual doctor, he spent $2,000 for a daylong assessment at a cushy health center loaded with amenities.

Jackson said that despite the cost, the concept offered at the Baylor Tom Landry Health & Wellness Center in Dallas appealed to him: having the tests done while spending a day in a luxurious setting.

“They did everything — started at 7 a.m., ended at 4 p.m.,” said Jackson, an Albuquerque, N.M., real estate developer who is waiting to find out if his insurance will pay for part of the September exam. “I could sit and watch the TV while they came in and prodded me. I thought it was well worth it for me.”

Those in charge of such programs say patients are drawn to them because they can spend an extended amount of time with a doctor, want to focus on preventive medicine and enjoy the convenience.

But some experts question spending a lot of money for the workup, which is generally not covered by insurance.

Baylor’s program, which opened in August, joined similar programs nationwide offering daylong fitness and health assessments to those willing to pay upward of $2,000 for the service.

The Baylor assessment, called Personal Edge, includes body fat analysis, a fitness consultation, a treadmill test, a chest X-ray, a bone density exam, a cholesterol profile, and hearing and vision tests. Participants can also indulge in extras like a massage, personal training session or golf swing analysis.

Dr. Larry Gibbons, medical director and president of the Dallas’ Cooper Clinic, which focuses on preventive medicine, said he’s seen such offerings increase over the years.

“Most of our patients are people who really have a desire to get a careful physical,” Gibbons said. “They want the comprehensive exam which they feel they can’t get in today’s medical system, and they want someone to talk to them.”

But some experts say routine physicals by primary-care physicians should suffice.

“More is not always better when it comes to health-care technologies,” said Dr. Ann O’Malley, a researcher in preventive medicine at the Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Edward Hill, president of the American Medical Association, agreed.

“Most physicians follow recommendations that give you what should be done for every sex and age; they’re all evidence-based,” he said

One-on-one time worth it

Most insurance plans allow for an annual physical with your regular doctor, said Mohit Ghose, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group whose members insure more than 200 million people.

“If your treating physician recommends other testing off your physical, that’s going to be covered,” Ghose said. “That’s why working with your physician is key to having the right tests done at the right time.”

Nevertheless, patients say the extended one-on-one time with a doctor is worth it.

“I bet I spent at least an hour with the doctor or more,” Jackson said.

Richard Buckley, 47, of the Dallas suburb Flower Mound, also was impressed with the time he got to spend with a doctor at Baylor.

“She’s asking you, ’Anything else?’ and you start to realize, this is great. A doctor is talking to me,” said Buckley, who, like many who undergo such assessments, was sent as a perk from his company.

Patients praise the efficiency of getting a variety of exams in a day. Jackson figures it would’ve taken at least a month to get all of the tests done.

“In the managed-care model that most of us live in, you’re lucky to spend 20 minutes with your doctor,” said Dr. Paul Sokal, medical director of Personal Edge.

At the University of Chicago Hospitals, the impetus for an executive health program started six years ago came from a doctor and board members who were interested in preventive medicine, said program director Shara Storandt.

“We do it all for you,” Storandt said. “Instead of it taking you weeks to do all of these things separately, you’re doing it all in one day and people are paying for that convenience.”