Making Your Club Part of the Health Care Continuum

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reviewed activity levels of Americans and, for the most part, found them statistically unchanged over the reported period. From a club perspective, that seems unbelievable as we look at membership growth, new facilities, equipment innovations, etc. However, despite this industry's involvement, educational efforts by the CDC, and the 1996 Surgeon General's Report, we are making little inroads into the pool of non-exercisers.

When Eau Claire Athletic Club (ECAC) opened in 1986, we hoped to one day serve a niche of the population that would directly benefit from an improvement to their quality of life — an improvement that they never explored. To achieve this goal, ECAC has positioned itself as a component of the health care continuum, which encompasses the recreation market as well as people who want to exercise, understand the need, yet have been unable to prioritize or initiate the fitness process.

ECAC has shown sedentary people the health benefits of exercise while showing that these benefits have an economic impact on others within their circle of influence, including employers, significant others and health care providers. And if entities such as health care providers get involved in the fitness process, they can provide motivation that leads to positive economic outcomes, enhanced quality of life, and a win/win situation for all parties involved.

Primary Process

To align ourselves within the health care continuum, ECAC established our position as a provider of health-related services. Here's how we began.

  • We stated our mission: Make fitness a lifestyle! We keep this mission statement in mind whenever we make decisions concerning staffing, programs, facility improvements, marketing and equipment purchases.

  • We hired degreed staff to provide a diversity of talent and expertise. Disciplines such as dietetics, exercise physiology, exercise management and cardiac rehab not only provide a resource to the members, but also raise our credibility within the community.

  • We perform fitness evaluations, HRAs and exercise programming/updates (following ACSM guidelines) as a component of one's membership and provide continual guidance toward predefined goals.

  • We formed a medical board of advisors from various health care providers in the area. This sounding board has given perspective and advice for working effectively with their practice and patients. (See sidebar “Sound Advice” for the board's suggestions.)

Marketing Methodology

We market our services to the medical community by:

  • Sending a “Welcome” letter to all physicians new to the community, listing our staff credentials, programs and commitment toward individual health.

  • Providing all health care practitioners with a one-month complimentary membership.

  • Giving health care practitioners who are members complimentary access to our interactive fitness network.

  • Providing a club information packet that a practitioner can give to a patient.

  • Sending a quarterly educational newsletter to all area health care practitioners. This newsletter provides the practitioners with data relevant to their daily patient contact.

  • Sending “Thank You” notes for all practitioner referrals, as well as listing them in the quarterly newsletter.

Lasting Friendship

In addition, we developed a relationship with a local provider, Marshfield Clinic. We are integrating our fitness services with Marshfield's medical processes. This integration includes:

  • Instituting an exercise prescription process that provides ongoing motivation and follow-up.

  • Tracking costs of once sedentary patients now engaging in exercise vs. those remaining sedentary.

  • Integrating the occupational medicine and physical therapy services with a daily routine of exercise.

The Health Opportunity

Health clubs have an opportunity to use their existing services to improve the quality of life for the sedentary population. With a little “tweaking” of club resources, this industry can take its place in the health care continuum, bringing about effective and economic change. Clubs can contribute to tremendous economic growth, resulting from savings generated by healthier living.

A 24-year industry veteran, Jeff Sauter is co-owner of the Eau Claire Athletic Club (ECAC). As a consultant, speaker and author, Sauter uses the ECAC as a model and training ground for new and innovative approaches toward expanding the exercise population. He can be reached at (715) 833-2201 or jsauter@ecfitness.com.


Sound Advice

ECAC heeded the advice of its medical advisory board and implemented the following initiatives:

  • Modified membership structure to allow short-term and no contractual time requirement on memberships.

  • Mails/faxes PAR-Q's to the physician of record. This provides necessary clearance (if needed) and an opportunity for encouragement of one's endeavors.

  • Acquired an interactive fitness network to provide documentation and outcome measurements. The network also assists adherence and forms a platform for the eventual exercise prescription process.

  • Created a space for medical/educational seminars open to both members and the public. ECAC furthered this concept by incorporating other presenters representing the diversity of member interests, such as books, cooking, crafts, etc.