Medical Fitness Association: Inspiring Change in the Industry

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  • Medical Fitness Association: Inspiring Change in the Industry

David Flench, president Medical Fitness Association.

Recently our Gym Owner’s Podcast welcomed David Flench, president of the Medical Fitness Association, for a conversation on how gyms benefit from offering medically integrated healthcare services. Here’s the lowdown on what we learned. To listen to our podcast, click on the embedded YouTube link.

What is the Medical Fitness Association?

It is a nonprofit professional membership organization providing industry standards, certification opportunities, educational programs, benchmark data, professional development and networking to improve the operational success of medically integrated health and well-being centers. 

It strives to be the resource for new and established gyms seeking to offer medical fitness services and to achieve Medical Fitness Association Facility Certification, which launched in 2008. Currently, there are 45 Certified Facilities in the United States. 

What changes has the medical fitness industry experienced?

Hospital-owned gyms usually led the charge in offering medically integrated services. Now, we see more commercial facilities recognizing the wellness side of their business and becoming fully certified facilities. 

What are the key differences between a commercial gym and a Medical Fitness Certified facility?

Medical Fitness Certified facilities are required to reach 131 established standards. These centers look and act as regular gyms. However, the medical fitness certification layers over the core business.

Four ways a medical fitness center differes from a regular gym:

  • Medical Oversight. A medical director or an advisory committee serves in an oversight role. This group consists of doctors, physical therapists, nurses etc., who provide advice and care recommendations to the fitness center. 
  • Medical Liaison. Promotes the facility to referring doctors. 
  • Professional Staffing. Both employees and personal trainers hold relevant advanced degrees or professional certifications in chronic diseases.
  • Culture of Safety. Facility management practices medical emergency drills. Often the medical director has a hand in developing possible practice scenarios. 

How long does it take to become a fully certified medical fitness provider?

The process usually takes up to a year and half due to the documentation. 

Prior to full certification though, gyms are usually already reaping the benefits of a wellness program by building referrals from local physicans.

If a gym is not ready to jump into a full certification process, we suggest they take a step-by-step approach to diversifying their clientele. In this case, you’d identify both the populations you’d like to start working with and the education your staff needs to serve them. Often, gym management builds on the expertise already available within their staff.

Additionally, companies such as Cooper Wellness Strategies™, Power Wellness®, and Active Wellness sell turnkey approaches to designing medically integrated health clubs. 

How can a gym start receiving referrals from doctors?

It’s important to note that doctors refer to programs not individuals. By building your portfolio of specialty programs, you will attract more referrals. Cancer Fit, Rock Steady Boxing are two examples of programs doctors might refer to a patient. Often a patient or a family member asks their doctor for a referral to a specific program.

Will insurance cover these referrals? 

That depends. Often, gyms must reach out to insurance providers and ask if they cover a specific program. Otherwise, insurance coverage for these “step-down” services are hit or miss. A doctor-written script for physical therapy is almost always covered within a limited number of sessions. Often, though, a patient needs further assistance to become fully functional. It is here in these “step-down” programs that certification and industry accreditation are critical to gaining credibility and ultimately more consistent coverage by insurance companies.

Facility size and certification; How large is enough?

Most certified facilities are 20,000 sq. ft. or greater. However, gyms of various sizes can thrive if they tailor programs to fit their specific space. 

Where can a gym owner learn more about medical fitness certifications?

Explore its website for details and sign up for their Webinars. As well the Medical Fitness Association hosts an annual conference drawing industry leaders from throughout the county. Here, interested fitness professionals explore various programs, resources, and network. The Medical Fitness Association also provides management training courses and supports national fitness events. 

What is the ROI of implementing a wellness program if I am not fully certified?

Practically speaking, these special populations are often available during non-peak hours. This new community increases the overall use of your gym without inconveniencing members exercising during the busiest times of the day. As you add programs, and build a network of certified professionals, your gym will become a trusted resource and referral for your local healthcare community. 

What is the advantage to becoming a member of the MFA?

Access to referrals, industry knowledge and a community of experts to guide you. Additionally, the MFA produces regular Webinars serving to both inform fitness club owners and act as continuing education credits for credentialed staff members. 

Follow the Medical Fitness Association on social media at: 

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