Most of us do not look forward to our annual physical. It’s something to be endured, rather than enjoyed.
But that could change, if Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City has its way.
Over the past few years, Mount Sinai has been incubating a program called Lab100 that aims to reinvent the health checkup. The idea is to incorporate the latest consumer technologies, like virtual reality and 3-D body scanners, while maintaining a close relationship between the patient and their practitioner.
Lab100 hasn’t launched yet to the general public, but the team of doctors, designers and researchers behind it invited me in to give it a try. So earlier this month, I spent a few hours at the clinic to get an assessment of general health, and interviewed the team behind it.
Here’s how it went down:
Before I came in, I filled out an online assessment about my sleep habits, medical history and food preferences. So they knew a little about me and my health and wellness goals before I arrived. I was told that the visit would take about 90 minutes, which is far longer than the typical 20-minute annual checkup. I was also cautioned that Lab100 wasn’t designed as a replacement for my family doctor, as they wouldn’t be diagnosing me with any disease.
I arrived on a Thursday afternoon and greeted immediately by a physician — in this case, the pediatric neurologist David Stark. Dr. Stark told me right away that it wouldn’t feel like a “normal experience.” He was right about that.
After they snapped a picture of me to personalize the experience, the on-site nurse took my standard measurements, like height, weight, blood pressure, labs and so on.
After that, I changed into tight clothing and stepped onto a high-tech body scanner, which measured my body composition by spinning me around while I held on to a handle.
Our next station measured my strength using a virtual reality headset to motivate me to push harder. I stood on a raised mat with my eyes closed to gauge my gait and balance.
And I did a bunch of cognition tests to get a better sense of my brain health.
- My recent commitment to working out at the gym two or three times a week appears to have paid off. My resting pulse rate was in the fifties, which Dr. Stark told me was indicative of an “athlete.” That’s probably the first time I’ve heard anyone refer to me that way (I’ve never been particularly adept at sports) and it felt like a real achievement.
- My balance isn’t terrible, but there’s definitely some room for improvement. I do a lot of cardio, but neglect core-strengthening activities like yoga and pilates. So Dr. Stark suggested that I mix up my workout routine, as having a strong core will prove beneficial as I get older.
- The cognition testing, which I’ve never done before, indicated that I’m not a very visual learner. I already suspected that, as I tend to retain information more easily if I hear a word spoken aloud, rather than see it written down. But I wish I had done this sort of testing at a younger age, while in school.
- Throughout the process, all of my data was blown up immediately on an interactive screen. That gave us an opportunity to talk about what it all meant, rather than having to wait a few days for the results.
- Seeing the data — and having someone explain the implications to me — made a big difference. I feel energized after a workout, but actually seeing my effort pay off was powerful. If I take Dr. Stark’s recommendations seriously, I’d be curious to see if there would be any further changes in 3 to 6 months.
- There were a few instances where Dr. Stark told me that he wasn’t confident in the results. And he suggested that we redo the test. As medical experts know, not every test is guaranteed to be totally accurate. There’s always a risk of a false positive, or false negative result — so the best doctors are trained to avoid getting a patient overly concerned or reassured by a data point that seems off.
- Incidental findings are always a possibility when you’re testing a lot of different things. The group has thought a lot about this — what to do if they find a strong signal of a disease in the data that the patient isn’t aware of — and say that they’ll closely integrate with the traditional medical system so that they can deliver the right followup care.
A program like this could succeed by catering to the wealthy New Yorkers who live around Mount Sinai, which is located on the Upper East Side. But Dr. Stark, and his counterpart on the research side, Joel Dudley, who serves as the director of the Next Generation Healthcare Institute at the hospital, reassured me that they intend to scale out the program and bring down the cost so that anyone can get tested.
Lab100 hasn’t launched to the public yet — it’s still in beta and is slated to launch this fall — but the team is working on convincing insurance companies to cover it. There might also be an appetite for incubating these sorts of clinics inside hospitals that would subsidize the cost, as Lab100 is also a research effort. If patients consent, their data could be shared with the hospital’s research team to better understand human health — and not just disease.
“The vision here is that we have something that essentially can be plugged in like your cable box,” said Dudley. “We envision a path where we have many many of these Lab100-type systems out in the world, but that they are all feeding into the same brain.”