What is in this article?:
Positioning fitness facilities within the health care continuum likely will become even more important when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) goes into full effect in 2014.
Who Will Lead?
Although the efforts of these regional players are noteworthy, does one of the national chains have the ability and desire to take the lead and show that health clubs can be a successful part of the health care continuum?
"The bigger boys now have a whole different opportunity in front of them if they choose to capitalize on that," says Kevin Steele, a partner with Communications Consultants and someone who has been involved in integration of health care in clubs for 30 years.
Whether 24 Hour Fitness, LA Fitness or Gold's Gym would be able to lead in this area would depend upon whether company executives want to commit to it from a strategic corporate perspective and commit the resources necessary to do it, an industry consultant says. Life Time Fitness could have a large impact in its markets if it commits to this effort, but it is not yet truly national, the consultant adds, and the cost of building its facilities prohibits it from expanding quickly.
So that brings us back to the current leaders in companies such as Miramont, Dedham, ACAC, Gainesville and Akron General as leaders in their areas. Unfortunately, many club operators are not as well-prepared as these facilities to meet the challenges of the PPACA, Steele says.
Anyone who wants to work with corporations and the health care industry will need to look at the issue from a big picture perspective and be willing to take on the required preparations and due diligence to accommodate people who are not fitness enthusiasts into their clubs, Steele says.
"We are really good at providing facilities for people who want to exercise or athletes, but where we really stumble is we don't really understand the mentality of the person or the patients who are going to be referred into these clubs, we don't understand their needs or what the psychological barriers to our industry are," Steele says. "The astute operators who can get into that and really understand that and make the few minor modifications in their facilities will be able to make a huge impact in their local communities."
Health care providers need to be educated about what the fitness industry can offer as part of the continuum of care, and the fitness industry needs to educate itself about protocols that come with being part of that continuum of care, such as the need to comply with federal regulations that cover patient privacy, Steele says.
Ken Germano, CEO of the Medical Fitness Association, agrees that modifications will be required.
"You have to make a fundamental shift in your philosophy and spirit as a facility," Germano says. "Are we this lifestyle of beautiful people, or are we going to be about mainstream and talk about reaching the other 85 percent of the population?"
Buchholz warns that only clubs that are in a position to provide quality programs should pursue this or they risk hurting themselves and opportunities for other club operators.
"You have to have a staff of individuals, of wellness coaches, of nutritionists, of registered dieticians and a marketing team that is willing to do it," Buchholz says. "It is not going to happen without a fair amount of effort."
Program-driven clubs are more likely to be prepared for this challenge than equipment-based clubs, Buchholz says, because equipment-based clubs often are lower-priced clubs that do not have the required staffing.
That does not mean that club operators must change their business models, Conviser says. Instead, operators who have the qualified staff can simply add these short-term programs, especially if their current model is doing well.
"What you are doing is adding a new product and positioning it in a way that people who haven't come before want to buy," Conviser says.