Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Insure.com and is reprinted here with their permission. Click here for the original post.
There’s nothing your clients can do to erase evidence of a lifetime habit of cheeseburgers and cigarettes before a life insurance medical exam. But they can avoid mistakes that lead to false test results and higher life insurance rates.
A life insurance medical exam takes about 20 minutes and includes height, weight and blood pressure checks, the collection of a blood or urine sample and a request for medical history. The healthier the measurements and lab results, the lower the premiums for coverage.
“A lot of people don’t think about preparing for the exam,” says Jo Steinberg, CEO of Midland Health in Brookfield, Wis., which conducts paramedical exams for Examination Management Services Inc. (EMSI) in southern Wisconsin. “They just show up for an appointment.”
And that may be problematic because a host of things, from the ordinary to the exotic, can throw off test results.
Wacky life insurance exam readings
Steinberg recalls a stock broker who couldn’t take his eyes off the stock ticker while she conducted the exam in his office. As the market numbers scrolled by, his heart rate and blood pressure went through the roof.
“I finally had to pull him away from that,” she says. When he couldn’t watch the stock market drama, the readings were normal.
Betsy Sears, executive vice president of sales for ExamOne, a Quest Diagnostics Co., has seen false positives for cocaine abuse in coca tea drinkers. Made from coca leaves, the tea is used to treat altitude sickness in the Andes. American travelers bring it back from South America and sip it at home, not realizing the tea metabolizes in the body like cocaine.
Years ago, people could test positive for opiate use after eating poppy seeds. Remember the “Seinfeld” episode when Elaine tests positive for opium, and then realizes it’s from her favorite poppy seed muffins?
Since then, though, the threshold for a positive opiate test has been raised. Although there are some strains of especially potent poppy seeds, you probably won’t test positive for opiates from eating baked goods these days, Sears says.
Most likely to mess up your results are the following, examiners say. Share this list with your clients to help them prepare as well as possible.
1. Drinking too much coffee
It’s probably OK to have your usual cup of Joe the morning of an exam, but gulping down several cups is a bad idea. Avoid any caffeine — including those “energy shots” — at least an hour before the exam, says Kim Anderson, senior vice president of EMSI’s Insurance Services Division.
Stimulants like caffeine boost blood pressure and heart rate. Get a good night’s sleep so you don’t need a big jolt to get going.
2. Getting stressed out
Steinberg has often seen “white coat syndrome” boost blood pressure readings.
“People will get nervous when they see that someone with authority is taking their blood pressure,” she says.
Use relaxation techniques, and spend time in a calm environment. Save the confrontation with your boss for after the exam.
3. Eating when you’re supposed to fast
Eating before a blood test can elevate triglyceride and glucose readings, Sears says. Follow fasting instructions, and let the technician know if you had anything to eat and when.