Planning for risk

Health-risk assessments can be valuable benefit for executives
By Yolanda Billinkoff
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/15/2014

Cancer was a problem Robert had failed to anticipate. Like most executives, he was overstretched, with nobody to step in for him if he suddenly needed time off. He figured he would schedule an appointment with his family doctor if anything changed. Then Robert discovered his company provided the management team with a health-risk assessment, so he had one done.

A highly suspicious nodule was found on the ultrasound image of Robert’s abdomen.  Consequently, he was booked for a CT scan at a nearby hospital. That scan revealed the nodule was renal cell carcinoma — kidney cancer.

Robert consulted with one of the clinic’s urologists and eventually his medical team removed his kidney. Afterward, he wasn’t under any obligation to tell his company about his health situation — all the medical information was confidential. Nevertheless, Robert shared his health situation and worked with his management team to develop a plan to manage his temporary health-related absences, with little overall impact on the company. 

What, how, why

Screening for cancers and other potentially life-threatening conditions at privately run health clinics is a perquisite many companies in Canada and around the world are providing to key personnel with increasing regularity. 

A health-risk assessment — also called an executive health assessment or comprehensive health assessment — is a thorough medical evaluation focused on a preventive proactive protocol. Consisting of 12 to 15 sophisticated diagnostic tests, the assessments are performed in state-of-the-art facilities by a team of medical experts. 

Clients feel more like hotel guests than hospital patients crammed among sick people.

Medical results can be ready the same day as the assessment or up to one week later, depending on the private clinic. Should the assessment turn up any health concerns, a referral team will help arrange specialist appointments and interpret results. The health-risk assessment ends with a detailed report outlining recommendations for future health success.

About two in five Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime, and one in four will die of the disease, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. The incidence is higher among men: Roughly 46 per cent of will get cancer. 

In 2013, the Medcan Clinic in Toronto saw a new diagnosis in 35 per cent of the patients seen, including 164 cases of cancer, 632 cases of cardiovascular disease and 191 cases of diabetes.

Catching such maladies early can allow time for preparation for the recovery period and, in some cases, can avoid a long recovery altogether. Consider the costs of long-term disability, which will affect one in 110 employees annually and cost the organization about $17,500 per case. In a 110-person company, between 10 and 18 employees will go on short-term disability in any single year, not to mention the costs represented by absenteeism and presenteeism due to illness or chronic health conditions. 

How to get started

Like all fee-for-service products, not all private clinics in Canada are created equally. When evaluating which clinic will be best for a health-risk assessment, it is important to do your homework and ask the right questions, including:

•How many physicians are on onsite?

•How does the referral process work?

•Are all test results ready the same day?

•What type of equipment is available on the day of visit? 

•Will an assessment require multiple visits?

It is also worth considering what tools the clinic offers in the way of aftercare. And once you decide to make changes, is the clinic able to support these steps? 

When looking to incorporate the health-risk assessment into a company’s benefits package, the key hurdle is the cost. Small in comparison to total compensation, it is still an investment over and above the cost of other health benefits.

Some companies simply pay the assessment’s direct cost. Others turn the assessment into a non-taxable benefit that still allows the employer to deduct the cost as a business expense. To do that, a company can make the health-risk assessment available through a health-care spending account or a cost-plus medical reimbursement plan. 

A newer, more egalitarian benefit trend involves providing the assessment to all employees as an incentive tied to certain benchmarks, perhaps after five years of service or achieving certain sales goals. It’s up to HR to assess the cost-effective ways to incorporate the benefit into their talent acquisition and overall talent strategy.

Companies routinely plan for risk; some companies even have chief risk officers. Implementing a health-risk assessment for key personnel makes sense and, in the end, may even save a life. 

Yolanda Billinkoff is vice-president of sales and account management at the Medcan Clinic in Toronto. She can be reached at or for more information, visit

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