Five years ago, The Atlantic Club embarked on its journey to become a medically integrated fitness facility. Pat Laus, the owner of The Atlantic Club, was a registered nurse before moving into the fitness industry 30 years ago. With this experience in mind, she began to realize that medical fitness was no longer limited to hospitals.
“There are several commercial clubs that have made the decision to adopt the medically integrated model, and among those is The Atlantic Club,” said Bob Boone, the director of the Medical Fitness Association (MFA). “Adopting a medically integrated model really helps clubs become part of the health care continuum in their local communities, so they become a trusted source for referrals from physicians.”
After attending a conference hosted by MFA, The Atlantic Club decided to pursue a Medical Fitness Association Certification, which is not required to be a medically integrated club, but is recommended. The process took about nine months, but according to Boone, the process can take up to two years due to the extensive requirements each facility must meet.
The Atlantic Club also established a medical advisory board in order to gain better insight into the medical field. The board consists of nine doctors who meet with the club’s leadership three times a year to give advice on how The Atlantic Club can enhance its medical fitness program, PREP (Physician Referred Exercise Program).
A physician must refer a patient in order to participate in PREP. “They are deconditioned, they tend to be a bit older, maybe in their 50s, they need exercise but they don’t want to join a club and they don’t want to be pressured into any type of contract,” explained Kevin McHugh, the COO of The Atlantic Club. “What we do is very simple. We talk to the doctors in our community — we have about 47 who refer to us — and offer their clients 60 days for 60 dollars.”
While the program costs The Atlantic Club more than $60 per client, a portion of the people will join the club once PREP ends. “They will decide health is a good lifestyle change,” said McHugh. “We see that some people who have come into our PREP program become big advocates for fitness and, after 60 days, they can’t get enough of exercise and they do join.”
According to McHugh, about 25 percent of the clients who come through PREP become members of the club. Even if a PREP client decides not to join The Atlantic Club, McHugh explained they will try to assist the client in finding the right club for them.
“Others may find that our price point is a bit high because we are at the premium end of the health club spectrum and they may join a different club, which is fine,” said McHugh. “We will help them get into another club because the important part is that they stay active.”
A key component to the success of PREP is communication. Both the trainers and an outreach coordinator work to stay in contact with the physicians. “We let the doctors know if their patients are using the club, how many times they are coming in and the results they are getting,” said McHugh. “It has been a nice relationship.”
McHugh explained building this strong relationship with the local physicians was one of the biggest challenges throughout the process of becoming a medically integrated club.
“The medical community does not trust you initially,” he added. “There is a level of trust that has to be developed between the doctors and the club. The medical advisory board was the first step toward doing that, because we asked them why they don’t refer their patients into health clubs and they said they did not want to put their name to something they didn’t have full confidence in.”
To gain the trust of local physicians, The Atlantic Club ensures patients in PREP receive the highest quality care. They meet with trainers who are assigned specifically to the program and maintain the required certifications. Each client also receives a MYZONE belt to make tracking progress easy and keep accountability high.
“We are not getting them ready for a marathon, we get them ready to walk up a flight of stairs,” said McHugh. “So their level of success is completely different from someone who would normally join a health club. We want the patients to feel comfortable walking into the club, knowing how to use the equipment, seeing results, feeling better overall and watching what they eat.”
While becoming a medically integrated club and pursuing an MFA certification might seem like a daunting process, the end result could greatly benefit your club. McHugh explained the process has helped The Atlantic Club reach a wider audience, beyond the 17 percent of people who belong to health clubs and want to exercise.
“When you take a look at the medical fitness component, it opens up the market to many more people than what we were dealing with in our commercial health club,” said McHugh. “You start reaching those who are deconditioned, people who want to get better, but have very little confidence that a health club is their solution.”
Becoming a medically integrated fitness facility can also transform the member experience as a whole. “It raises the bar for the way facilities operate in terms of how they approach even their regular members, how they test them and measure their progress over time,” said Boone. “It creates more personalized services based on each individual’s health status, risks and personal goals.”
Even though the process of becoming a medically integrated club is an investment of time and resources, McHugh advised not to be afraid of getting involved and branching out from the traditional. “Not every club needs to go in this direction. There are great models that are just going to be for the 17 percent. And their model works, but there are a number of clubs that are looking at how to better address the entire marketplace. What I recommend is to open the doors to other ways of getting more information that you may not get from just being a commercial club.”
A great first step would be attending one of the many MFA conferences held throughout the country. “We do about seven conferences each year to provide people with the opportunity to share knowledge,” explained Boone. “Anyone who wants to learn more should come to one of these conferences and interact with people already in the field.”
Lastly, take your time. According to McHugh, it took The Atlantic Club three years to become fully medically integrated and they are just starting to reap the rewards. “It is not something you can jump into, have it be the flavor of the month and then forget about,” said McHugh. “You can start getting involved by just finding out more and seeing if it is something you want to do because it is an investment.”