Medical fitness is profoundly changing the relationship between fitness and healthcare.
“Fitness industry leaders should understand this interconnectedness will continue to develop, and if you’re not thinking now about electronic medical records and care providers, you’re going to lag behind this evolution,” said Alan Loyd, the executive director of Beacon Health & Fitness, which boasts three medically-integrated facilities in Indiana.
Further, according to Loyd, the integration of fitness and healthcare must go beyond being housed in the same building. “Sports medicine and physical therapy are two service lines that have worked really well for us in our model,” he added. “But don’t think that just housing fitness and clinical services under the same roof equates to medical fitness or integration. It involves your entire operation, when done correctly.”
For Beacon Health & Fitness, this mindset shift was a process. Founded in 1982, the brand began as a department of a local hospital, offering forward-thinking services such as a teaching kitchen.
In the late 1990s, the brand relocated into a brand-new, standalone building as an extension of Memorial Hospital — which later became part of the Beacon Health System. At first, the fitness arm struggled to turn a profit on its own, and hadn’t yet mastered the full integration of fitness and medical services.
“Then as the healthcare landscape began to change, it was no longer viable for us to operate as a loss leader within a hospital setting,” explained Loyd. “Turning that corner into a self-sustaining operation really allowed us to be thought of differently within our own organization. Wholly embracing the medical fitness model about 10 years ago was another turning point for us as we looked to fully integrate clinical and fitness services well beyond just being in the same building together. That was a process, not an overnight shift.”
Today, Beacon Health & Fitness operates three fully-integrated medical fitness facilities, each complete with cutting-edge classes and equipment, physical therapy, sports medicine, personal training, wellness coaching and more — all overseen by a Medical Advisory Board and medical director.
And again, these services aren’t just housed in the same buildings, but all work together in support of full fitness and medical integration.
“[Beacon Health & Fitness] is built on a foundation of integrated medical fitness with an entire infrastructure built around that concept,” explained Loyd. “Every program is vetted by our Medical Advisory Board for safety and effectiveness. Our medical director leads meetings with our on-hand experts from physical therapy, sports medicine, personal training, massage, nutrition, athletic training and sports performance to talk through tough cases and provide our members with a degree of expertise and care that just can’t be replicated in a traditional health club setting.”
An example of Beacon Health & Fitness’ medical integration is its Wellness SurroundCare meetings, which bring together physicians, physical therapists, athletic trainers, personal trainers, massage therapists, wellness coaches, dietitians and other experts to discuss particular client cases.
“Every two weeks we come together as a team,” explained Del Stukel, the group fitness and Pilates coordinator for Beacon Health & Fitness. “Anyone can bring a case to the table — a doctor or a personal trainer, for example — and then we all talk about the case and decide the best care for that particular person.”
According to Stukel, this helps Beacon Health & Fitness overcome particularly challenging client or member cases that may otherwise go unresolved.
“There are many times someone will say, ‘Well, I’m really not sure what to do with this person. This person had this knee replacement and they can’t get range of motion, or they can’t do this or that,’” said Stukel. “This gives me, for example, the opportunity to take them and see if I can help through Pilates. It’s a team approach.”
The medical fitness integration also gives Beacon Health & Fitness the ability to offer specific programs for people with chronic conditions under the umbrella of Beacon Best Medicine.
“Within Beacon Best Medicine are a series of different classes, and they’re all for people with chronic, life-changing conditions such as arthritis, cancer, down syndrome and heart disease, and they all require a referral from a healthcare provider,” explained Loyd. “These are free with membership, so you do have to join the club, but after that it’s just part of your membership.”
According to Loyd, the impact of these programs is profound. As an example, he shared the community’s response to the launch of a class for people with Parkinson’s disease. “When we launched that class, we didn’t know what to expect,” he recalled. “We held an informational meeting for anyone in the community who wanted to learn more, and we had about 50 people show up. We had no idea how many might come. One of the people who was there that evening made a comment that really stuck with me. He said, ‘We’ve been waiting for someone to offer this.’”
Recently, Beacon Health & Fitness decided to take its medical fitness integration a step further by pursuing a facility certification through the Medical Fitness Association (MFA). The process took a little over a year and required the organization to meet a number of rigorous standards.
“Deciding to pursue facility certification through the MFA was a landmark moment for us as an organization,” said Loyd. “It gave us a guidepost to steer toward in pursuit of the highest standards of quality and safety. And I would say it helped us twice, really. Once we committed to the process, it improved our organization almost immediately, as we then had clear guidelines put in place by industry experts. As we implemented these guidelines, it became clear we were better for it.”
Another benefit of the certification process involved the site visit by MFA professionals.
“To have two industry professionals visit with us for a day and a half, reviewing all our materials while engaging with our staff, was an invaluable experience,” said Loyd. “And of course, receiving their feedback created another learning opportunity for us. Moving forward, meeting the MFA facility certification guidelines is just a part of us. It’s who we are. With the safety and quality measures, it emphasizes a part of our DNA.”
As a fully integrated and certified medical fitness facility, Loyd explained Beacon Health & Fitness is in a unique position to serve the needs of its community. And oftentimes, it’s the first introduction a consumer has to the Beacon Health System.
“The way we look at ourselves as a medical fitness facility is we are a retail extension of the health system and we are in a more public setting than some of their other service lines,” said Loyd. “We’re often the first interaction a person might have with our health system.”
As a result, Beacon Health & Fitness has the unique ability to make healthcare cheaper, faster and more convenient for the consumer and health system as a whole.
“For example, say we have a member who goes in for her annual checkup and has an elevated blood pressure reading,” explained Loyd. “Historically, the physician would never diagnose her with high blood pressure after just one reading. He’d say, ‘We need to monitor this and see where it trends.’ But now, because she’s coming to a medically integrated health club, that physician can order our fitness staff to check her blood pressure every time she comes in for the next month. The physician is able to make a much faster decision on if a care plan is warranted. That’s one of the very simple examples — we’ve made it cheaper, faster and more convenient.”
This creates a unique dynamic between Beacon Health & Fitness and its members that can be difficult to replicate in a non-medically integrated facility.
“I think our members and future members trust we can help,” said Loyd. “More than anything else, that’s what they’re looking for from us.”
This also has a significant impact on Beacon Health & Fitness’ staff.
“Our staff connects to this model in a profound way,” said Loyd. “They know we have the tools and capabilities to improve the quality of life for the person who comes in our doors. Having this confidence carries into their own work each day.”
As the relationship between fitness and healthcare continues to change, more and more clubs are entering new territory in the pursuit of medical fitness.
According to Sarah Strefling, the director of Beacon Health & Fitness, clubs pursuing medical fitness integration require professional and trained staff, a great healthcare partner, and most importantly, a shift in mindset.
“At some commercial facilities, the vision is how to sell and drive different programs with the intent being financial gains,” said Strefling. “Obviously financial gains are important to us, but you have to be able to balance that between the clinical programming piece and consider what’s best for the community and membership base.”
In addition, Strefling explained a collaborative approach is key when seeking the best outcome for a member or client in a medical fitness setting.
“You have to work closely with the physical therapists, medical director, physicians — which can require putting egos to the side and looking at everything on an even playing field,” said Strefling. “It really is a big process I think you have to have full investment in, and people have to be willing to focus on the mission of creating a healthier community.”
However, if a club fully commits to the integration of medical and fitness, the end result can be worth it. For Beacon Health & Fitness, the benefits of full integration have included an elevated reputation, more positive outcomes for members and an overall healthier community.
“As this line blurs more and more between healthcare and fitness, we’re really positioned well to do a lot of good for the consumer,” said Loyd.
My husband and I love this place so glad we joined.