Welcome to the Era of the Five-Hour, $5,000 "Super Physical" Exam

Manhattan's Elitra Health Center offers the most thorough one-day exam in the country, and immediate results

March 17, 2020 9:55 am
Welcome to the Era of the Five-Hour, $5,000 "Super Physical" Exam
Mike Falco

Don’t plan on finishing any light reading at Elitra Health.

During a recent five-hour visit to New York’s “longevity center” of choice, a 15,000-square-foot complex a couple blocks up from Manhattan’s Freedom Tower, I sat down four times with a copy of Sports Illustrated‘s MLB preview to try and read a feature about baseball’s two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani. On each occasion, I only managed a few sentences and a couple bites of an imitation Fig Newton before a smiling nurse or doctor poked a head into the men’s lounge and pulled me away for more blood work, another cognitive test or an aural exam.

So goes a “check-up” at Elitra, a four-year-old concern that invented the one-day, comprehensive Elitra Exam, where promptness and pleasantries reign, and the facility — prim hallways with lemon-smelling war rooms and waiting areas — is reminiscent of the stroll one takes to find a bathroom in the lobby of a Four Seasons. All that comfort, unsurprisingly, is intended for a certain clientele. Elitra patients live in (or own, at least) Cloud City apartments in the supertalls over Central Park. They’re executives taking advantage of company-paid programs. They’re former or current athletes (a couple rooms in the facility feature signed basketballs and footballs). Many of these visitors have Steve Martin hair and remember where they were during the Moon Landing.

The goal of the Elitra Health Center for Life and Longevity, though — complimentary avocado toast, Voss water and minimal wait-time notwithstanding — is to detect medical issues patients may not normally find during a squeezed-in annual physical. That Elitra feels like (and costs, to be fair) a mini-vacation is an essential part of this pursuit: it’s easier to take your health more seriously when that life and longevity, even for just one day, is the unmitigated priority of Gotham’s most experienced medical professionals.

Elitra’s lobby could easily pass for the entrance at a leading PE firm or hedge fund (Elitra)

A day at Elitra varies depending on your age, gender and medical history. But you can count on it looking something like this:

  • Blood draw
  • Radiology services
  • Power breakfast
  • Physician meeting
  • Ancillary testing
  • Neurological exam
  • Exercise physiology
  • Nutrition consultation
  • Health massage
  • Results review

It’s a lot. That’s the point. Five minutes after I arrived, Lead Nurse Anne Revman directed me to a Equinox-esque locker room to collect a urine sample, and from there, the revolving door of exams and consultations began.

The blood draw is standard fare: they test for blood pressure, glucose levels, cholesterol, mercury (I’m a pescatarian) … everything. There’s a room with a BodySpec DXA scanner that spits out your exact bone density and lean muscle mass. A medical assistant gives you an iPad hooked up to a pair of noise-canceling headphones, which plays hardly-there chimes for several minutes while prompting you to decide whether the noise actually happened. There’s a thorough eye exam. A Cambridge-designed test meant to assess your cognitive abilities and short-term memory.

One of the most valuable aspects of the exam, though, is time with an experienced physician who simply has nowhere else to be. I met with Dr. Richard Hernandez, an emergency room alum (he spent 11 years on the front line at Lenox Hill) who’s worked in preventative exams, cardiac health and lifestyle medicine for nearly 20 years. He explained how poor posture (mine is terrible, I apparently need to start walking around “like Charlie Chaplin”) and a desk-bound lifestyle coupled with improper, impatient stretching (“pumping” doesn’t reap the same benefits as settling in for a couple minutes) has locked my legs and tightened my low back.

I knew these things about my body, the way you know you have to send an email or empty the dishwasher. But watching him explain exactly how I got there — dropping phrases like “scapular contractions” and then augmenting his knowledge with Wikipedia diagrams — was refreshing. He taught me new stretches right there on the spot and then simply marched forward in the exam, checking my back for malignant marks, asking me about my sleep, peppering me with questions about my diet and stress levels, and even checking in on the mobility of my left wrist, which broke way back in the seventh grade.

Each patient is handed a personal packet at the end of the day

At one point, Elitra stuck me in a war room (one long table, 16 seats, one giant screen) with a full brunch. I popped out to hit the bathroom and Dr. Hernandez strolled by. He mentioned some results had already come in, and my glucose levels looked great. I smiled, thanked him, entered the bathroom. What? My inner elbow was still bleeding through a cotton ball, and I was already being told the results of my bloodwork by a grinning doctor. He’d even made another crack about my posture, muttering something about Charlie Chaplin as he waltzed away.

Over the course of the afternoon, I met with a massage therapist, a nutritionist and an exercise physiologist. The massage therapist, Roseanna Gowrie, asked me if I was hurting anywhere, and why (low back, typing), then went to work on the spot for 20 minutes. The nutritionist, Ashley Sobel, advised me to introduce more fiber to my diet and address gut health with probiotics like yogurt. The exercise physiologist, a man named Alex Erlikh who once played international rugby and credits family-saving actions he took during Hurricane Sandy for inspiring his passion for functional fitness, helped me devise a training plan to strengthen my back and core, which included plank iterations, rows and tissue work.

Related: A Conversation With a Harvard Geneticist on How to Live Past 100

Some patients, it should be noted, reach the end of a day at Elitra Health with some difficult decisions to make, and an uncertain road ahead. Elitra maintains a partnership with Mount Sinai, though, and if any issues are discovered — beyond a penchant for high-sodium foods or wobbly knees — the clinic will set up your next appointment. The ensuing experience won’t be as quick, comfortable or country-clubby as a trip down to 255 Greenwich Street, but Elitra officials encourage and welcome follow-up consultation, even just over email or phone. When I met with Dr. Hernandez, he had some notes for me. I’ll keep them to myself, but just know that none were life-threatening.

That in itself is another testament to the value of a one-day, immediate-results consultation. As we age, there’s a lack of time and thought from medical professionals geared toward those who don’t explicitly need it. It’s not really anyone’s fault: similar to a beleaguered third-grade teacher constantly trying to quiet down a few tables of loud students, others in class are going to miss out on one-on-one reading time. For most, an annual check-up to make sure your vital organs are still in your body will suffice. But Elitra — and other similarly minded concierge health services around the country — broker in preventative care. They want to help you avoid whatever might be lurking ahead, and live long, quality decades beyond it.

Dr. Hernandez officially handed me a packet detailing my results before 3:00 p.m. I learned more about my body (from calcium scores to memory capacity) in five hours than I had learned in the five years preceding. Is that worth $5,000? That’s up to you. If you’re Mark Cuban or one of the Dallas Mavericks he employs, of course it is. But even a reasonably well-off adult might want to consider dipping into their savings at a young(er) age for a day at Elitra. The super physical isn’t super affordable, but it’s super convenient, stacking up appointments that would normally take weeks of calls, meetings and waiting into a half day of work. After my exams, I felt a little loopy (they took a not-insignificant amount of my blood), but empowered, too, the way I feel after a good session at the gym. I was armed with knowledge, knowing just a little more about myself.

And I’d learned it all early enough in life that there’s plenty of time to actually implement their advice. Just … not that exact night. A coworker had a birthday party at an Applebee’s in Midtown. It had been a long day, and longevity could wait one more.

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