You visit your dentist every six months to prevent cavities and gum disease; you head into your hairdresser every few months to maintain your appearance; and you schedule an annual physical with your doctor to… what?
For most people, an annual physical exam is a generic requirement that lacks a valuable purpose. You’re told to make the yearly appointment, so you do, but how does it really help to improve your health and vitality?
Unfortunately, if you’re a patient in our country’s traditional healthcare system, it probably doesn’t. You spend five minutes with a doctor you barely know to rush through an obligatory checklist that doesn’t actually change, improve, or address the trajectory of your health.
America’s healthcare system isn’t designed to help us achieve optimal health and wellness, which is exactly why so many executives and entrepreneurs are turning to concierge practices instead. In the world of concierge medicine, we empower patients by performing comprehensive executive physical exams.
Standard Annual Exams Vs Executive Physical Exams
A standard annual exam is compromised by one major factor: time. The average primary care practice is optimized for speed and volume. A physician must see 30, 40, even 50 patients a day to generate revenue.
Insurance companies hold all of the power in our standard healthcare system, so they dictate how patients and doctors interact, which treatments doctors can provide, how much money doctors make, and ultimately, the quality of health care patients receive.
Most adults have only ever experienced a standard annual exam. They don’t even know another option exists. But it does!
Executive physical exams are fundamentally different from standard physical exams. They’re not driven by the time on the clock or the threats of an insurance company. Instead, they’re designed to deliver results with a customized, hands-on approach.
Executive annual physicals give patients the unique and invaluable opportunity to communicate with a doctor who comprehensively exams their health and develops an active strategy for improved wellness.
How Brentwood MD Performs Executive Physicals
With the help of my talented nurse practitioner, Jen Justus, Brentwood MD has been performing and perfecting the art of the executive physical for many years. I asked Jen to identify the elements of our executive physicals that create the most impact for patients.
Dive Deep Into Patient Goals
We have always been committed to building a practice on depth, not width. During an executive physical exam, we take the time – as much time as needed! – to delve into every patient’s unique health and wellness goals.
We don’t merely collect vital signs, run tests, and say goodbye. Instead, we talk. We ask questions, listen, and dig into the details to understand two critical pieces of the puzzle:
- Where are you now?
- Where do you want to go?
It’s like using a map at the mall. You know you want to get to Nordstrom, so you check the map for guidance. First you find the location of Nordstrom, your destination. But knowing that destination doesn’t mean much until you find the “You Are Here” star on the map. Now you know exactly where you’re starting, the path you need to take, and your ultimate endpoint.
Our executive physicals are designed to help patients honestly audit where they’re starting on their health journey, what goals they want to reach, and how they can get there.
As Jen explains, “I hear from a lot of our patients that, ‘nobody’s ever spent this much time getting to know me and caring about what I care about most.’”
Receiving health care is an intimate experience. In any situation where you expose your vulnerabilities, fears, and hopes, trust is essential. But how can doctors and patients possibly build deep trust in a single six-minute exam once a year?
It takes time to cultivate trust, which is exactly why our executive physicals take time. Your health is the most important asset you have, so why does our country’s healthcare system force us to manage that asset with a doctor we barely get the chance to know or trust?
At Brentwood MD, we use executive physicals as a launchpad to create deep, trusting, rewarding relationships. By learning your lifestyle, personal challenges, and future goals, we become your health and wellness copilot. You can tackle health problems and optimize your wellness with a friend and advocate by your side.
“I love when they leave our office looking better emotionally than when they arrive,” Jen shares. “I think it’s because we position ourselves as their trusted advisor.”
Create a Strategic Plan
All of the testing and examining in the world is worthless without a strategic plan for improvement. Our executive physical exam lends itself to creating this type of strategic plan by prioritizing your most important goals.
Every Brentwood MD patient walks out of his annual executive physical with a clear, actionable, strategic plan to improve his health. Then every six to 12 months we revisit and reassess:
- What’s going well?
- What’s not working?
- Are you experiencing new challenges?
- What victories have you enjoyed?
By closely evaluating the results, we can determine if and how a patient’s strategy should be augmented. More than anything, we never stop hunting for the potential hidden threats to a patient’s health. The better we can predict and prevent health threats, the better we can optimize quality of life.
The Ultimate Goals of an Annual Physical Exam
In our upside-down healthcare culture, it’s easy to feel like the ultimate goal of a physical exam is merely to fulfill the obligation. But the truth is that every annual exam serves four critical purposes.
1. Achieve the Holy Grail of Health
If you’ve ever spent five minutes with me, you know my number one passion: optimizing blood sugar. There is nothing else that delivers a better return on your investment for improved health than balancing your blood sugar. Which is exactly why I call it the Holy Grail of Health.
When blood sugar levels surge out of control and trigger type 2 diabetes, the consequences become worse with every passing day. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels lead to a hyper-insulin state which in turn makes the body more vulnerable to a number of complications:
- Heart attack and stroke
- Metabolic conditions
- Nerve damage
- Vision problems that lead to blindness
- Teeth and gum infections
- Kidney damage
- Poor blood flow
- Slow and inefficient wound healing
An executive physical gives your doctor a yearly opportunity to evaluate your blood sugar, identify warning signs, and create a strategic plan to balance and optimize blood sugar levels.
“Knocking out any question about blood sugar and whether that’s an issue has to be number one,” Jen reminds us. Considering that diabetes fuels nearly every common cause of death in the U.S., from heart attack and stroke to cancer and Alzheimer’s, it must be the first priority in any executive physical.
2. Control Risk Factors
Every executive physical exam also provides a valuable opportunity to control risk factors for your health.
Modifiable risk factors pose threats but are relatively easy to adjust. With the guidance of your doctor, you can implement simple lifestyle and dietary changes that reduce the impact of modifiable risk factors, including:
- Tobacco Use
- Alcohol consumption
- Lack of exercise
- High stress
- Inflammatory diet
Other risk factors, including age, gender, and genetic profile, can’t be changed or modified. So it’s critical to effectively manage them instead. An executive physical exam provides the opportunity to hunt for warning signs and act accordingly.
3. Measure Outcomes
How can you possibly succeed on your journey to better health without specific measurements? There are many ways to evaluate progress, and an executive physical is the perfect time to identify those measurements:
- Body fat vs lean muscle
- Frequency of intermittent fasting
- Blood sugar levels over time
- Dietary changes
And so many more! When your doctor is also your health and wellness advocate, he can provide the insight and follow-through needed to make sure the benefits of your executive physical don’t end when you walk out of the door.
4. Adjust Strategies As Needed
Health care isn’t a static responsibility. Repeating the same strategies every day, every year, for your entire life won’t result in optimal health. Life ebbs and flows in seasons, with some of those seasons allowing you to go on offense and others forcing you onto defense.
It’s essential to partner with a physician who thoroughly understands your health situation and takes the time to help you adjust your strategies over time. In a season of offense, you might begin hormone optimization therapy, tackle weight loss, or use new stress management techniques. In a season of defense, it might take every ounce of your energy just to maintain your weight and avoid an ulcer.
The bottom line? If your health isn’t as good as you want it to be, you need a better plan.
A 5-Step Framework For Health Optimization
If you’re not sure how to bring your journey to better health, this 5-step framework provides a strategic starting point.
1. Stop Smoking
If you have any ambition to live a longer and more vibrant life, you need to quit smoking immediately. There’s no debate about it- smoking is the single largest preventable cause of death in the United States and on the planet.
When you stop poisoning your body with the 7,000 chemicals found in cigarettes, you can expect the following benefits:
- Reduce risk of heart attack after one year
- Reduce risk of stroke after two to five years
- Cut risk of mouth, throat, and esophageal cancer in half within five years
- Cut risk of lung cancer in half after ten years
- Reduce respiratory symptoms like coughing and wheezing
So if you currently smoke, tackle that habit with a death star laser beam. Every bit of energy and commitment you have should be completely dedicated to quitting smoking until that goal is finally achieved.
2. Optimize Blood Sugar, Lipids, Visceral Fat, Lean Mass
These factors are all intimately interconnected as extensions of the Holy Grail of Health. Uncontrolled blood sugar fuels the flames of diabetes, which is the gateway disease to all metabolic and obesogenic diseases. What begins as sleep apnea and hypertension accelerates in a dangerous domino effect to stroke, heart disease, or early death.
By making the Holy Grail a priority, you don’t just optimize your blood sugar, you reap benefits you can see and feel:
- Decrease visceral fat
- Reduce lipid levels
- Build healthy lean mass
- Gain more energy
Other than quitting smoking, optimizing your blood sugar is the most powerful decision you can make for your body, health, and quality of life.
3. Audit Alcohol Intake
Just like life, drinking has seasons as well. Take an honest audit of your alcohol intake to identify whether it’s compromising your health goals.
When things are going well and you’re not struggling to overcome a serious health issue, you may be able to endure a few more drinks a week. But if you’re going on the offense to achieve a specific goal, alcohol may make it harder to achieve your goals. Weight loss, for example, is far more challenging with two drinks a night than two drinks a month.
4. Master Stress Management
Stress management isn’t about the elimination of stress. In fact, it’s impossible to escape stress; as you move through life, new sources of stress will always appear. So stress management is about learning how to recalibrate your internal stress “smoke alarm” and thrive even in the midst of stress.
Although stress can’t be measured on a scale or captured on an MRI, your physician can help you implement stress management techniques as you work to improve your health.
5. Seek Joy
I can’t believe the simplicity and power of this message, and I’m always stunned to see just how disconnected we’ve become from the idea of joy.
I have the pleasure of taking care of awe-inspiring people. It’s a very emotional experience when I get to tell them, “Hey man, maybe you should pick up the guitar and just play something.” Giving people permission to make joy a priority in their lives is something that truly brings me joy.
When is the last time you did something without any agenda, strictly because it made you happy? Where in your life can you infuse joy?
Maybe it’s time to take the tarp off the ’65 Chevy or get your hands in the soil and plant some flowers. Maybe you need to knit, or write music, or read (for pleasure!), or drive to the beach and put your toes in the sand, just because it makes you happy.
Successful, high-powered, mission-oriented people often struggle to do this, but we all need to pursue joy in whatever form we can find it.
Ask yourself: Where in your life can you infuse joy just because it makes you happy, nothing more and nothing less?
Dr. Aaron Wenzel is a concierge physician specializing in the care of fast-moving entrepreneurs, executives, and public figures in the Nashville, TN area. Dr. Wenzel’s diverse life experience and extensive training in family medicine, emergency care, nutrition, and hormone replacement therapies give him the unique platform to provide unmatched care for his patients.