Mayo Clinic has treated plenty of pilots over the years, including many who came to Rochester by corporate jet so their CEOs could get executive physicals.
Now, Mayo wants to take the pilot business to new heights by courting business from corporate flight departments.
With a new service called ProPilot, Mayo Clinic promises to provide not just the physicals required of pilots by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but also preventive care that can minimize the amount of time pilots are grounded for health reasons.
One of the goals is to "break the old culture of … what the FAA doesn't know won't hurt them," said Dr. Clayton Cowl, chairman of Mayo Clinic's division for preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine. "These guys end up getting substandard medical care."
The Minnesota Business Aviation Association says more than 100 businesses based in the state use corporate aircraft.
In 2014, the federal government said there were about 593,000 pilots in the United States.
The Mayo Clinic program comes as pilots as a group are getting older, and have a greater need for preventive care, said Dr. Thomas Jetzer, a physician with Occupational Medicine Consultants in Edina.
His practice treats about 2,500 pilots per year, including many who fly for commercial airlines.
Jetzer said he doesn't see the Mayo Clinic program as competition, so much as evidence that health care for pilots has become more important as retirements contribute to a shortage in the profession.
"You really want to be able to maintain the wellness of your pilots," he said, "because they're an asset just like the airplane."
A program fee to Mayo Clinic of $395 gets a pilot one flight physical per year; a comprehensive preventive screening assessment is billed to a patient's insurance. If a medical condition is detected, Mayo flight physicians will expedite necessary medical waivers and get needed treatments started.
Earlier identification of a medical condition can help prevent a lapse in certification eligibility, Cowl said.
Corporate flight departments sign up for the program, and Mayo's doctors take the role of the flight department's medical director.
Mayo Clinic has six certified flight physicians, Cowl said. Right now, the doctors treat a variety of patients, but will devote more time with the new program to treating pilots.
"We probably right now see around 1,000 pilots per year," Cowl said. "We expect that to double probably in the next year or so with this new program."
For pilots, using the Mayo Clinic program means traveling to Rochester for physicals and preventive care. Covering the distance hasn't been a problem at Warroad-based Marvin Companies, which has sent its corporate pilots to Mayo for about two years.
Warroad and Rochester are in opposite corners of Minnesota, but getting to Mayo Clinic hasn't been an issue since Marvin pilots regularly fly into the Twin Cities metro, said Jeffrey Parker, the company's aviation department manager.
"We like the idea that [pilots are] getting the best care that's available," Parker said. "We're not hoping that the Mayo finds something wrong. But if they do find something, then we also know we're at the right place to get that resolved."