Health Club Owners Need Patience for the Return on Prevention Programming

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A recent Reuters article shared how the prevailing thought that preventive medicine would save the country millions on its rising health care costs might be false. "Insight: Think preventive medicine will save money? Think again" by Sharon Begley, stated that offering preventive care to millions of people who may never come down with the conditions for which they are getting preventive treatment would cost more than the savings earned in preventing the chronic condition for the few who would have suffered from it.

But as the article mentions toward the end, preventive medicine will be expensive because it comes from high-priced doctors. But preventive care does not always mean medicine, and it does not have to come from the high-priced medical community. Much of this preventive care can be offered by lower-cost registered dieticians, personal trainers and lifestyle coaches who can teach people how to live healthier lifestyles.

The consultants and club owners that I spoke with for our cover story on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) all agreed that this act could be a real avenue for the industry to reach the 85 percent of the market who are not currently health club members—some of whom have never been members.

So many people bemoan the fact that the industry has been unable to penetrate this market. Now, the confluence of rising obesity rates, rising health care costs and this government initiative has created the perfect storm of opportunity.

To participate in these efforts, the experts agree that fitness facility operators must step up their professionalism and education. They must network better with the medical and corporate communities. And they must adjust their thinking about their businesses. To be part of the health care continuum, clubs can no longer focus on selling. They must focus on what services these deconditioned people need and deliver those services in ways that they need them.

The investment required in time and resources might be more than some operators want to take on—or can take on.

The investment will not offer an immediate return, just like the investment in wellness programs does not offer an immediate return for employers. It typically takes at least 18 months from the launch of a corporate wellness program to see it affect the employer's bottom line, according to the website WellnessProposals.com, which features wellness programs and health promotion initiatives. And it could take three years to see truly meaningful savings.

Health club operators also will need to be patient to see the return. That can be difficult depending on how much a club must invest. My fear is that some club operators will not think the wait is worth it, and they will not invest in what could truly differentiate them from competitors and pay dividends in the future.

Just think of it as preventive care for your club. If you do not become a part of the health care continuum, then one of your competitors likely will. And while it may not pay off for a few years for that competitor, the payoff will come. And you will wish you were on the receiving end of that payoff.

 

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