Communication between doctors and clubs vital to help fight obesity epidemic
Thu, June 19, 2014 at 13:19
Lilly Prince in CBI, Dr. Edward Phillips, Obesity, Scott Goudesuene

Mounting scientific research continues to confirm the relationship between regular exercise and good health, with the benefits ranging from stress relief to the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

And, in 2010, when healthcare reform expanded insurance coverage to include obesity interventions, it fueled the passion that many in the fitness industry feel about helping others. These professionals, along with IHRSA, also recognize the new business potential involved, and the association has developed publications to help clubs capitalize on this opportunity.

Specifically, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that all health insurance plans cover obesity screenings and intensive obesity counseling for patients who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, and who have been referred by a doctor.

However, what constitutes “intense obesity counseling” is not yet clear, and it may be left up to individual insurance companies to define the service. That’s because, in 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force fell short of providing an explicit definition. It did, however, acknowledge that weight loss programs that last longer than three months, and that combine behavioral counseling, physical activity, and nutrition, are effective in promoting sustained weight loss.

This move toward insurance coverage for obesity treatments is encouraging for health clubs. It suggests that they may be able to tap into a very large market. It may also prompt more doctors to write exercise prescription for their patients and refer them to high-quality clubs.

The prospect of such use of exercise prescriptions has created a groundswell of interest among industry pros. “We want the medical community to look at us, trust us, and understand that we can really be a vital member of the healthcare team,” Scott Goudesuene, the president and CEO of the American Council on Exercise (ACE), said during IHRSA’s 33rd Annual International Convention and Trade Show in March.

Still, at this time, winning the respect of the medical community seems like a daunting - if not insurmountable - challenge for many clubs. Physicians can be difficult to reach and/or engage, which tends to dissuade some club owners from trying.


The Medical Wellness Toolkit
The Value of the Exercise Prescription
Health Benefits of Exercise

(for IHRSA members only)

IHRSA recognizes and understands these concerns, and, in response, has created "The Medical Wellness Toolkit: A Guide to Successful Collaborations with Medical and Allied Health Professionals" and "The Value of the Exercise Prescription". Both are designed to help club operators communicate more effectively with doctors, making them successful advocates for medical wellness.

"The Medical Wellness Toolkit" is a resource-rich guide that clubs can use to help them initiate and sustain fruitful relationships with local physicians, and, ultimately, convince them to refer their patients. The toolkit features tips for breaking the ice with doctors’ offices, talking points, scientific research on the health benefits of exercise, sample e-mail introductions and pitches, and downloadable templates for tracking patient/ member health outcomes.

It also contains insights from two of the industry’s medical wellness pioneers, Phil Wendel, the founder of the ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers in Virginia and Pennsylvania; and David Tuthil, the president and CEO of Hearthstone Health and Fitness in Easton, Md. Both describe what it takes to create a reputable, successful, club-based, medical wellness program.

"The Value of the Exercise Prescription" is a short, to-the-point value proposition that outlines the health benefits of exercise documented by scientific research, and is directed at doctors and medical professionals.

The objective of both documents is to teach clubs how to speak to doctors in the research-oriented manner that they understand. 

Article originally appeared on IHRSA (
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