What Is Luxury Health Care? A Visit To Switzerland's Clinique La Prairie
Luxury health care? You don't hear the term very often. From a social perspective it is a bit of a tricky concept. To imply that some types of health care and medical treatments are 'excessive' and for the well-to-do only seems to contrast with the humanitarian concepts of treating the ill or injured. In fact, luxury heath care has been around for eons. The tonics a king would drinks, the ointments of an emperor. Things not necessarily meant to cure, but enhance or enliven.
Today luxury health care often falls under the category of "elective procedures." A rather tedious concept probably coined by insurance companies. It implies that you don't need it, or rather that the patient, versus the doctor is prescribing the treatment or procedure. We often look down upon things like cosmetic surgery publicly - although it is so much a common practice world wide. So back to the initial question - are such 'elective procedures' all that is encompassed under the umbrella of luxury health care? No. In fact luxury health care is probably what health care should be in an ideal world. Proper attention, good doctors, and the time taken to properly diagnose and treat, whatever the problem may be - whether it is necessary to sustain life, or elective to enhance it.
I travel to Switzerland and visit the Clinique La Prairie (CLP) to see if I can answer my question about luxury and health care. The Clinique is a rather famous (if you swing in the right circles) "wellness center" that has been around for about 80 years. Located right on Lake Geneva in Montreux Switzerland, CLP is nestled away in a small, but highly desirable location near France. The beginnings of the Clinique are rather retro sci-fi in concept. I will let CLP give you its full history, but a doctor had an interesting idea of injecting people with young organ cells collected from sheep. The theory was that these early organ cells would stimulate cellular rejuvenation and offer a series of "wellness" benefits meant to make you feel younger and stimulate the immune system. Sounds a bit mad scientist-ish, but people much more picky than I swear by it.
Today the "rejuvenation" treatments that include the "CLP Extract" are still offered at CLP and are one of its most popular treatments. 80 years of the world's wealthiest people coming back for more cant be wrong right? At the very least, the Swiss aren't exactly known as major proprietors of BS. CLP keeps very tight tabs on the process and the formula. Then even raise sheep themselves in Switzerland to harvest the cells. The secrecy has allowed them to thrive from being the only ones in the world who can offer the treatment, but there is a drawback. People like you and me who are skeptics and want some hardcore empirical evidence about the procedure, are left a little empty-handed. Allowing for clinical trials and peer review opens up the heavily guarded secrets. CLP is actually in the process of patenting some of their newer techniques that use the CLP Extract. So in a few years there should be more empirical evidence of the benefit of the CLP Rejuvenation treatments. Until then, suffice it to say that the treatment is very popular, seems to work, and is mean to "make you feel younger again" (and each treatment last for about 2 years, but really depends on the patient). If I had the money, I would try it. Though CLP does recommend that the treatment is mainly for people 40 years old and above.
Is CLP just about 'hot sheep injections?" No. Over the life of the facility, it has grown, and is really a dynamic place offering a number of world-renown services. Then even have an extensive 'menu' of available things you can get done, which is available for perusal when you get there. The CLP can best be described as a "wellness center." They feature luxury accommodations (people usually spend several days or weeks there to get treatments, etc..), and everything else you need to feel at home and related. It feels like a nice Swiss hotel, save for the hospital style beds in the room, the "call nurse" buttons, and the quiet, almost austere feel to the place. They have an amazing kitchen where you'll eat quite well, a full hospital with everything except an emergency room (it is sort of open to the public), and a full spa and fitness facility. Though it should noted that while CLP is made to make you feel good, they aren't American in their style of tact and "feel good" communication. This isn't a place where you are overly pampered and made to feel like absolute royalty. In fact, actual royalty are known to frequent the CLP rather regularly. More a place of serious professional, who appear to enjoy what they do.
Basically you can visit the CLP just to relax, to have spa treatments, to lose weight, or to have any number of medical treatments, and to then recover. All the while enjoying the remarkably good weather (probably the only place in Switzerland where palm trees grow), and uncomplicated seclusion. So going back to the medical side of the story - how does all that work at CLP? Where is the luxury? The cornerstone of their medical facility is the exclusive ability to cater to their VIP clientele. You can go to the CLP for minor dental work, or undergo serious cosmetic surgery. The facility prides itself not only on that it offers all of this, but how it does it.
So what would a luxury hospital have? First, it would have to be totally state of the art, with highly trained staff. CLP has the budget to buy all the newest medical devices. I can attest to that. There is very little red tape when it comes to upgrading or getting a new device or machine. A member of the staff asks for it, and it usually is ordered. This also goes for the fitness and spa facilities. The facility is also not cluttered and impeccably clean. I usually turn into a germaphobe when being in any hospital. At the CLP, I have never felt more comfortable and calm while at a place where syringes and scalpels lurk in drawers. The facility features lots of open space, natural light, actual art work, and a non medical feel that was extremely welcoming.
Even at its busiest the compound is really calm and uncluttered with activity. You don't see too many other people, and really feel like you are left alone, free from bother. Not the best place for people who want to socialize much, this isn't the place for that. Though like I said, it is calming. I can't quite emphasize enough how much the CLP medical facility is inviting compared to most other medical or hospital settings that I have been in.
CLP doctors are handpicked for having certain specialties and being accomplished in their field. They also need to proven team players. Very few of them are full time at CLP. They have their own practices which allow them to keep up to date on what is new, and hone their existing skills. This is purposefully done. Though they all seem to enjoy being at CLP the best in comparison with their other efforts. It is pretty much a dream come true for doctors to be at a facility like CLP. Think about it. No complex documentation or paper work. No insurance company looking over their shoulders preventing them from doing tests or procedures in a timely manner. All the best equipment. The ability to walk across the hall and consult with another expert who may know something they don't, and best of all... all the time they need with a patient to talk, examine, and diagnose them.
Doctors also have the freedom to perform what tests they deem necessary, without going overboard. This is a crucial difference to high-end American health care. In America, at the Mayo Clinic for example, all patients there get a long battery of tests. Apparently, no matter what they go there for, they get all the tests, to get a lot of base level readings. This not only stresses out the patient, but it is very time consuming and expensive. At CLP, this isn't necessary. You don't have just one doctor, you have the whole team. After coming in and being diagnosed, the doctors get together and discuss what the issue(s) may involve. They then cooperatively agree on how to proceed, including the appropriate tests to be administered and the treatments or procedures to provide. It is a very "holistic" approach to medicine - getting a team of experts to look at your entire system before doing things. The concept of holistic medicine is thrown around a lot in the US, but where does it actually see practice? Most of the time it is a pipe dream that involves months of referrals being bounced around from one doctor to another - who don't really speak with one another. According the doctors at CLP, the American medical system is great at producing high-quality information about patients, but fail often when it comes to what to do with the information.
Medical practice at CLP is pretty much the closest thing to what people see on the television show "House." An approach where experts who are right next to each other discuss a patient's needs, bringing into their discussion their own expertise, and sharing data. CLP doctors only see about 30 patients a week, if that. The bare minimum time with the majority of patients initially is at least an hour or more. This is compared with the 15 or so minutes American doctors often provide, and most of the time they are sitting at a computer asking you questions that the insurance company's lawyers suggest. It must be awfully frustrating for many American doctors not to have thee freedom to practice in a manner that their education was designed for. The art of medical examination in America seems to be a rare practice, but one can experience this mythical act at CLP.
Interestingly enough, the examination room that each doctor uses in actually in the same room as their office. The examination bed is adjacent to their desk, or very close. There is no strange separation in work spaces. It is a very intimate environment with a professional, as opposed to assembly line style where you are herded from room to room, and wait indefinite amounts of time. Seriously, the longest waits in the world are when you are in a small, odd smelling room with medical devices sitting restlessly for an unknown time for a man or woman in a white coat to show up. CLP doesn't seem to have any of them. It s patient and professional, with the occasional assistant. The doctors at CLP are full aware of the alternatives out there. Sitting in their clean, art decorated offices it is hard to think about "managed health care options" which most of us must live with.
The experience at CLP makes me closely think about the great debate going on now in the US about health care reform. The things people argue about, and perhaps the things people should argue for here in the US aren't quite the same. Can health care on a mass scale ever be "saved?" Can it ever equate to what you'll find at CLP? I have no idea, but it isn't likely. Good health care is certainly expensive - I am sure of that, but does that make it luxurious? I would say no, from a theoretical standpoint, but in practice it surely is. The health care you dream about and see on TV is luxury health care. The same way all the characters in the show Friends used to have no-money jobs, but lived in a super expensive apartment in New York.
Those among us with the budget and means for good health care will be able to afford the attention, equipment, and time that the people at CLP can offer. I met with a few of their doctors for a series of interesting interviews. Never in my life have I met doctors so interested in their work, with an ability to focus on actually helping people without lots of hurdles to cross. And I am not just talking about cosmetic matters. I met with Dr. Anne Laurent-Jaccard who in addition to being a nutritionist and a doctor, an expert on obesity and weight management. She specializes not only in effective weight loss treatment (both lifestyle and surgical), but also in maintenance of weight loss. I have never had a more intellectual and enlightened conversation about the subject with anyone. Next, I met with Dr. Olivier Staneczek, a pulmonologist and sleep expert. One of his main areas of interest is helping people sleep better by diagnosing and treating common, but often brutal conditions that prevent people from resting properly. Often times people need to sleep in an uncomfortable sleep clinic with a much of machinery attached to them to diagnose such issues. Because CLP has all the newest and best medical devices, Dr. Staneczek can send his patients back to their beds with comfortable devices that remotely record sleeping data. He is very passionate about his work and seriously cares about the metal and physical health of his patients. I also interviewed Dr. Adrian Heini, the head doctor and resident internalist. Full time at the CLP, while overseeing the medical center, he of course remains a part of the medical team, regularly seeing and treating patients.
So you can come to CLP for medical treatment or enhancement, stay in a beautiful place, enjoy "Swiss hospitality" (those who are familiar with the Swiss will chuckle at that), and eat pretty taste gourmet food. Actually, the food they feed you in their dining hall all made to be very healthy, in calorically sensitive, "sensible" portions. Yet you never really feel hungry. Even for those like me with "American appetites."
I have discovered that quality health care can be made luxurious with the right surroundings, and amenities. CLP is a perfect place to go to have any number of medical treatments (probably for mostly non-communicable diseases) while resting and relaxing with an world class attention to detail. I however absolutely refuse to recognize the medical care available at CLP as luxurious. I adamantly feel that this is how ALL medical care should be administered and offered. The concept of luxury and health care should be foreign to one another. Unless you are talking about drinking cucumber water while the doctor uses a solid gold stethoscope on you that has just been slightly warmed for your pleasure.
Leaving the Clinique I realize how rare my experience has been. Few people understand that places like this even exist. Being sold on the concept myself, I know that the time will likely not come when I can afford to take advantage of the services available here. While the cost of staying and being treated here aren't sultan-priced, it isn't cheap. Nor should it be. With my new knowledge perhaps I will look for the next best thing in the US. How hard will it be to find? Well it be ruined when enough people find out about it? The best care comes at prices that the market will bear. Is that luxury when looked at in economic terms? Maybe, but I seriously doubt that anyone who understands what CLP offers would ever suggest, "oh, I don't need that."
Ariel Adams publishes the website aBlogtoRead.com.