12 Best Practice Guidelines on Running Medical Fitness Programs

Medical fitness programs can be a great way to help your community and bring in new members. Review these best practice guidelines to help ensure your programs are successful.

Kevin McHugh, CEO of The Atlantic Club, and Wayne Morris, assistant vice president, Health & Wellness Solutions at Ochsner Fitness Center, contributed to this article.

Medical fitness and health promotion programs allow your health club or studio to do several things at once:

  • Generate new revenue with added programs,

  • Address important health issues your members are struggling with,

  • Reduce costs of attrition by promoting greater member retention, and

  • Position your facility as a resource for your community.

Whether you’ve run wellness programs before or are considering starting one, ensure you are following the best practices below and then review the additional resources to dig deeper into this topic.

This article is one in a series of 28 Best Practice Guidelines for Operating a Fitness Facility.

When building a medical fitness or wellness program, be sure to follow these five steps:

  1. Ensure Your Program Meets Your Community’s Needs

  2. Track Progress

  3. Generate Leads

  4. Make Sure You Are Credentialed for Your Programming

  5. Consider Insurance Reimbursements

Ensure Your Program Meets Your Community’s Needs

1. Create programs that address the needs of an individual population. What demographics can you serve that already exist within your community?

2. Consider partnering with a medical provider in your community that shares your values and belief system for health and wellness.

3. Develop programs and pricing that fits your partner’s patient population.

4. These programs do not require a separate or dedicated space. You can assimilate them into your current operations with minor investments in equipment.

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Track Progress

5. Medical fitness is outcomes-based with initial assessments, mid-point assessments, and final assessments. Set goals and track KPIs at regular intervals to ensure the success of your program.

6. Exercise and nutrition are medicine. Create a transformation experience for customers by leveraging them together along with coaching on proper sleep habits and mental health.

Generate Leads

7. Design programs that are specific to a condition or medical issue, then eventually graduate the program participants to your regular programs and services. This is a lead generator that can create customers for life.

8. Continuously promote the programs to your partners, their employees, and their clients/patients.

Make Sure You Are Credentialed for Your Programming

9. Ensure trainers have earned high-level credentials in the areas they are addressing. For example, an "Exercising With Cancer" program needs a trainer or health coach that is also a Cancer Exercise Specialist.

10. Stay in your lane—don’t attempt to prescribe medical treatments or diagnose.

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Consider Insurance Reimbursements

11. Look into insurance reimbursements—where applicable—when you have the personnel and administrative structure to manage billing.

12. Nutrition is largely reimbursable in parts of the world that have private insurance and exercise can be added to the program as a complementary component if not reimbursable.

This article is part of the 28 Best Practice Guidelines for Operating a Fitness Facility series, where we’ll cover topics like Physical Therapy & Chiropractic Services, Saunas & Steam Rooms, and more in upcoming articles.

Additional Medical Fitness Resources for Fitness Professionals

IHRSA has an extensive library on wellness programming. View our Wellness & Community Programming page for more information on developing your medical fitness initiatives. Or check out some of our key resources on this topic!

The Medical Fitness Difference to Improve Population Health: In this article, Lori Deemer, M.D., discusses how the Hancock Wellness Center works with Hancock Regional Hospital to refer patients and improve population health.

Wellness Programs Open a New World of Opportunities for Clubs: This article outlines how a wellness program can benefit your business as well as some things to consider prior to starting your program.

I Want to Launch a Health Promotion Program… Where Do I Start?: This article gives you the first steps to take when launching a medical wellness program.

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Supporting Mental Health & Well-being: A Toolkit for Health & Fitness Centers: This IHRSA Foundation Toolkit—funded with a generous grant from the John W. Brick Foundation—provides you with the information you need to help address the mental health and well-being of your members and guests. This resource includes information on:

  • Opportunities for health clubs and studios to address mental health and well-being.

  • Evidence on the benefits of exercise for general mental health and well-being and clinical and subclinical mental illness.

  • Examples of fitness industry leaders addressing mental health and well-being and clinical and subclinical mental health conditions.

  • Current knowledge, attitudes, and awareness among fitness industry professionals about mental health and the benefits of exercise.

Tapping the Medical Opportunity - Benefiting Your Club and Community: (Member discount; Free to Standard, Premium, Studio, and Industry Partner members!) This webinar discusses how your health club could benefit from partnering with healthcare providers:

  • Learn how to educate doctors about exercise options and address gaps in medical education regarding exercise.

  • Discover why doctors focused on patient outcomes may increasingly see health clubs as allies in health promotion.

  • Review best practices of clubs that have successfully partnered with the medical community.

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This article was a team effort by several IHRSA experts.