The Time For Fitness Prescriptions Is Now

(Photo by MillefloreImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.) The time when doctors can write out a prescription for fitness that triggers financial and administrative support from health insurance companies is closer than you think.

(Editor's Note: This sponsored article is part of the Club Industry report, "The Future of Fitness Is in Healthcare Integration," which can be downloaded for free by going here.)

Getting enough physical activity could prevent one in 10 premature deaths, one in 12 cases of diabetes and one in 15 cases of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. No wonder #ExerciseIsMedicine has become a global initiative.

What if doctors could prescribe fitness—not just a verbal suggestion but a written prescription for fitness that triggered financial and administrative support from health insurance companies?

Imagine a scenario where a doctor could say, “I’d like you to be able to maintain a 3 mph walking pace for 30 minutes without your heart rate going over 120 bps within two months. Here’s your prescription for access and training to get you there.” Instead of then heading to the pharmacy, the patient could go to a health club, show their prescription and insurance card, pay a deductible, sign HIPAA releases, and start sharing their health app data with the doctor and insurance company. This scenario may be closer than you think.

In the last decade, technology advancements have made it possible to verify and measure all aspects of a fit lifestyle. Smartphone applications have matured to scan barcodes or estimate calories and nutritional macros with just a picture. Exercise tracking has shifted from manually entered logs to automatic recording or GPS coordinates with telemetry and wattage. These stronger evidence-based tracking mechanisms are now being integrated with personal training, nutrition and lifestyle coaching, education databases and interactive chatbots, as well as community support to help people stay on track, achieve goals and beat personal records.

Much in the same way that car insurance companies use automatically collected telemetry from your car to calculate which members are actually driving safer and therefore warrant a lower car insurance rate, these fitness tracking technologies are also getting us closer to a time that a personal commitment to regular workouts could result in lower health insurance premiums. Today, some health insurance policies include a discounted rate at certain health clubs or a maximum amount that can be reimbursed annually. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for members to find or use these benefits.

Club management technology has the potential to go even further. The industry is at the beginning of device integration, automatic movement tracking in the club, and deep integration of heart rate, wattage output and other forms of effort measurement. With health applications also beginning to connect more types of data and with multiple sources, we can imagine a future that’s not too far away where accurate and authentic data about our fitness is used to facilitate more personalized and lower cost healthcare.

Until we get there, clubs can implement programs that make it easier for members to take advantage of available insurance benefits and get rewarded for their level of fitness and goal achievement.

The first step could be as easy as investing in creating an index of the health insurance benefits provided by the major healthcare insurance providers favored by local employers. When marketing through local employers, in addition to the company subsidy or discounts offered, be sure to check what the employer’s insurance provider could additionally provide. Especially because the insurance benefit is paid directly to the member, the club is able to use the value of the insurance benefits in marketing without paying the price.

Although the direct connection of fitness to healthcare costs could still be years away, the idea of rewarding a member’s commitment to fitness is something clubs can implement today. A fit member is great marketing. And a member that is achieving transformational goals will naturally promote their club, their trainer, their group exercise classes and instructors as they talk about their fitness journey. The advocacy of your most engaged and active members has real, tangible marketing value.

Although we all look forward to a time when there’s a more direct connection between fitness and healthcare, clubs have the opportunity to help their members take advantage of the benefits their healthcare insurance currently provides. And using the concept of performance-based discounts within the club drives member advocacy and helps educate the market on how living a fitter life contributes to a healthier life.

As grass roots advocacy continues, technology makes the connection between fitness and health more quantifiable, and the relationship between doctor and patients becomes more transparent, we can all see a future where a prescription for fitness followed by sessions with a trainer at the gym replaces the pharmacy trips we know today.


Ryon Packer is a consummate product innovator and business leader. Prior to joining ABC Financial, he served as senior vice president of marketing and product management at the financial services company FISERV. Packer brings more than 30 years of experience in technology, strategy, product management, marketing and sales to ABC Financial. As the chief product officer at ABC, his priority is to ensure that every interaction with members, club and payment management systems is a seamless and frictionless process.

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