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Rx for Future Success: Balancing Mission and Margin in Medical Fitness

The health club industry is experiencing growing sophistication with respect to the fitness sciences, increased collaboration with physicians and other healthcare providers, and improved understanding of how to successfully balance the “mission” (member results) vs. “margin” (club profitability) equation.

It’s an eclectic transition, one requiring the participation of a host of parties, including colleges and universities, education and certifying organizations, trainers, club operators, healthcare professionals, health and fitness industry associations, and others.

And the 18 facility, Glastonbury, CT-based Healthtrax not only has success stories to share about the rewarding outcomes possible, but is also a serviceable exemplar. The company was recently awarded the Management Excellence Award by the Medical Fitness Association (MFA), which recognizes outstanding achievements within the medical fitness industry.

Hiring the Right People

Medically oriented fitness centers are sometimes regarded as noble, altruistic ventures that are economically tenuous, but Bob Stauble, the cofounder and chief development officer of Healthtrax, will have none of that. He not only believes that it’s possible to achieve a proper balance of mission vs. margin, but has also demonstrated it—repeatedly. 

Other operators see a dichotomy between mission and margin—between producing solid, positive results for members/patients and what they regard as the industry’s reliance on high-pressure sales and marketing tactics to generate revenues. Such tactics can “smother” a club’s mission, Stauble said.

“It’s all about employing the right people,” he said. “Hiring, training, and keeping the best people—those who strive to excel in all that they do every day— produces great margins without high-pressure sales, and without compromising high mission levels.”

Training the Trainers

The training of trainers—both before and after they’ve been hired by Healthtrax—helps guarantee that it always fields the “best people.” All of its trainers are required to possess a college degree in exercise science, kinesiology, or a related field, and must be certified by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM).

These and other education and certifying bodies, such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and industry trade groups, such as IHRSA, are also involved in elevating the knowledge and skill levels of fitness professionals so they can operate in increasingly sophisticated, medically attuned environments. Certifying organizations are not only constantly reviewing and, as needed, revising their core offerings, but a growing number are now developing health coaching and other healthcare-based programs.

Collaborating with Physicians

Sometimes, even a thoroughly credentialed and highly regarded personal trainer may not impress a doctor enough to prompt patient referrals.

“They don’t have any way of knowing whether a club is ensuring that their trainers are using what they’ve learned,” Stauble said. “Doctors feel really bad about prescribing treatments that require a patient to write a check for more than their usual copay.”

To overcome these obstacles, Healthtrax implemented a program that works like this: A physician sends a referral form for a patient to the club. The club consults with the patient, and, then, notifies the physician whether the patient has decided to participate in the program. Once enrolled, the patient works with a trainer to formulate a workout plan based on their current health status, the doctor’s recommendation, etc.

The program allays two of a potential referrer’s primary fears. It provides Healthtrax with success stories to present as evidence of the effectiveness of the club and its trainers, and it doesn’t require a significant or long-term financial commitment. 

Read the full "Rx for Future Success" article in the February issue of CBI.

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