The Medical Fitness Difference

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  • The Medical Fitness Difference

As a gym owner, you should always be looking for the next great thing to drive your business forward. That elusive “whatever” that will give you a competitive advantage, offer tangible benefits to your members and fiscal benefits to your bottom line. You’ve probably looked at programming, explored technology, perhaps even considered tweaking your branding. But if you really want all those benefits, you should be looking at Medically Directed Fitness.

Let me explain.

Medical Fitness, at its core, is about health risk management and partnering with the local healthcare community. Medically Integrated Fitness is how commercial health clubs can become the necessary “missing link” between true clinical Medical Fitness and the average commercial health club consumer. It can provide numerous measurable benefits to your members and offers significant profit potential for your business.

Let’s explore.

Our current healthcare system should more appropriately be called a “Sick Care” system. Typically, people are not incentivized to live a healthy lifestyle, nor is there any accountability for taking charge of one’s own health. And that is simply wrong. You probably already know that almost 80 percent of everything that goes wrong with humans is our own fault…you know, the food we (over)eat, the type of food we eat (too many fries, too few veggies), the stresses we carry, the sleep we don’t get, etc. But did you recognize that our current system offers little incentive or accountability for people to get and stay healthy and fit?

Suppose you, as a fitness business, partner with local physicians and other front line healthcare providers, like nutritionists, physical therapists, etc. They will continue to provide the medical direction that is necessary to your members’ long-term health and wellbeing – but now you can provide the accountability, motivation, and in many cases, the means to achieve those medically directed goals.

Let’s examine a medical risk model:

Risk Model
Medical Fitness Risk Model

The two middle tiers – At Risk and Rising Risk – accounting for roughly half the population (approximately 170 million people), have some level of risk and spend approximately half of all healthcare dollars. That translates to a VAST target rich environment that covers virtually all areas, cities, and corners of the country. Considering that less than 25 percent of the population are actively engaged in some form of regular gym membership, every facility in the country could literally double their membership and still not make much of a dent in the target audience. Wouldn’t you like a piece of that?

Well, here’s how medical fitness works.

It starts with your scope of services. In addition to your typical personal and small group training, look into adding the capability to provide post-rehab training, post-cardiac rehab training, arthritis and diabetes programs, and perhaps even medically directed fitness services for people with chronic diseases. All of those populations require specialized certifications, (all readily available from a number of quality sources) and must be guided by medically directed programming initiated through a strong relationship with a local provider. HIPAA compliant communications must be implemented, and the devil is in the details. You will need a well-planned operating model, an investment in the advanced trainer certifications, and perhaps some more robust measurement equipment, but the benefits to your members and your bottom line are well worth it in the long run.

So how do you go about cultivating those all-important relationships with local doctors, hospitals, and clinics? First you have to put into place an appropriate level of after-care to give the doctors confidence. Focus on the members – the doctors’ patients – and show that you have the commitment, personal and systems to provide a true continuation of their care, not just an afterthought. Then you should approach the group practices, clinics, or healthcare providers with a fully explained game plan – in writing – not just a “hey, let’s work together” phone call. Explain what you offer, how you provide it and perhaps most important, how it benefits their patients. Use data, examples, even case studies. Plan on taking the time to do this right, and do not expect it to be a fast process. Better effort will yield better results. Keep in mind that doctors will refer only to those entities they trust. Brand is less important than competency. But remember also that the better care you take of that doctor’s patients, the better the doctor will look in that patient’s eyes… and that will drive more referrals.

It is also a good idea to assemble a Medical Advisory Panel. 

Invite some local physicians and medical practitioners to participate. Perhaps you already have some in your existing membership. And remember, you are not asking your panel for referrals, although they may certainly do so when they see the benefits. You are asking them for insight, guidance, and assistance in some program development…perhaps also some referrals to potentially referring doctors and practices.

It is important, however, to fully understand what a physician referral is and is not. A doctor telling a patient to exercise is NOT a physician referral. The doctor recommending that patient see an exercise specialist to help manage hypertension IS a referral. To truly succeed you will need to develop the systems, staff, infrastructure, and strategies to safely and effectively care for this potentially large and currently vastly underserved population of potential members.

You probably already have the necessary equipment and physical space. You probably have a private meeting room for HIPAA compliant consults. Add to that trainers with the advanced certification mentioned earlier and the right business model, you can begin to implement medically directed fitness and open your doors to a whole new segment of your local population. A segment that is in need of better health, in search of better answers, and typically willing to pay a premium for both… because to them, a healthier life is truly priceless.

COVID-19 has hit and hurt us all.

 But the silver lining is the opportunity to open your eyes to a new market segment, open your business to a new, highly beneficial modality, and open your arms to a large, valuable population in desperate need of a new fitness home. We encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities to join the rapidly growing community of medically directed fitness providers. 

Visit us at The team at the Medical Fitness Association is here to help, and we look forward to working together.


By: Bob Boone, President & CEO of the Medical Fitness Association with Cosmo Wollan, Senior Executive of Synergy Cubed