The Medical Approach
An increasing number of health clubs are delving into the medical fitness realm, extending services beyond typical personal training and group exercise to now include health coaching, physical therapy, chiropractic services and more. By providing these programs, clubs are able to reach a wider demographic of the population.
Active Wellness operates medical fitness centers across the country that offer typical health club services like personal training, functional training, aquatics and spa services. However, in addition to these services, Active Wellness also partners with allied health professionals to offer health coaching, physical therapy, speech therapy, medical weight loss, acupuncture, soft tissue therapy, cardiac rehabilitation and post-operative cancer fitness.
“Specialized exercise, nutrition, mind-body and educational programs are available to help members and non-members address chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease,” said Michele Wong, the vice president of client services and wellness at Active Wellness. “We take an active role in the communities we serve, not only in the education and management of these conditions, but we also make an effort to give back to the community by donating our time to fundraising efforts to assist in the treatment of many of these medical conditions.”
Similarly, Valley Health Wellness & Fitness Center in Winchester, Virginia, approaches fitness from a medical perspective. As a certified medical fitness facility by the Medical Fitness Association, the club integrates medical offerings through its Next Steps fitness programs, which include: cancer, cardiac, diabetes, functional, orthopedic, prehab fitness for surgery, pulmonary, transitional care and weight management.
“Our Next Steps programs are focused on individuals who may have certain issues, who are coming from the hospital or a health care provider in the community,” said Jeff Jeran, the director of Valley Health Wellness & Fitness Center. “We bring them in and do an eight-week program to get them on the right track, get them used to our facility and then we transition them into membership after the eight weeks.”
According to Wong, as many as half of the participants in the Active Wellness medical fitness programs come from physician referrals, therefore it is essential to develop a comprehensive onboarding process for these new clients. Just like any new member, you want them to feel welcome and comfortable within the club.
“We provide all members with an initial meeting with a health coach, personal trainer or nutritionist, and in some cases, a nurse practitioner or physician,” added Wong. “The first meeting is an opportunity for our expert staff to listen to the member and develop a plan that best suits the member’s goals. This is different than a program referral and is a very important step in the overall experience, and in establishing a holistic team approach to building member retention and health outcomes.”
Wong explained additional touch points include introductions to allied health care providers on the team, and completion of assessments that are program specific and help participants reach their goals. For example, participants in the Parkinson’s program must be assessed on their ability to climb a short flight of stairs. “Our health coaches and fitness concierges follow up by checking in with the member on their experience,” she said. “These roles that might be seen as fringe are valuable to ensure adherence, and in many cases, help to convert program participants into long-term members.”
Fitness assessments are also a key component of the onboarding process for the Next Steps programs at Valley Health Wellness & Fitness Center. Jeran explained all clients will complete an assessment at the beginning of the program, and then again at the end. “We call them intakes and discharges,” he added. “Then we design an individualized exercise program for each person and schedule them for at least two supervised sessions per week during that eight weeks, so they get a total of 16 sessions working with some supervision with our fitness staff. Then, at the end of the eight weeks, we go through the discharge so we are able to provide them with some of their outcomes and send their physician a summary of their progress.”
Having knowledgeable staff is not only a key factor in the onboarding process of any medical fitness program, but also contributes to fostering strong relationships with local health care providers. Wong suggested assessing the needs of your community and determining if you have the staff with the necessary qualifications to address those needs.
“Having highly qualified staff is important to physicians when they consider referring patients,” explained Wong. “Once you have the right team in place, you then need to get them out into the community speaking and engaging with people. Knowledgeable staff and a welcoming, supportive environment are critical, but just as important are the programs. It is best to start with one program at a time and master it, rather than try and build multiple programs with limited engagement and results. The learnings from the development of your first one or two programs can be applied to each additional program, keeping in mind you want to implement assessments in each that are respected in the medical community.”