Why and How Health Club Operators Should Focus on Healthcare and Fitness Integration

Wellness Notebook
(Photo by Andrey Popov/iStock/Getty Images Plus.)

It is a movement that goes by many names: integrative, functional, anti-aging, wellness or holistic medicine. No matter the label you affix, the underlying market driver is an American consumer who wants better guidance and direction from their healthcare providers.

Consumers today want a whole-person approach to diagnosis and treatment. They are eschewing pharmaceuticals for natural treatments. They demand that their healthcare professional be their guide rather than their dictator in selecting treatments that are right for them. And they are willing to pay—out of pocket—to have a better patient journey, one with more time, more attention and more caring.

Regardless of the type of facility with which you are affiliated, you are most likely missing opportunities to capture and bind these members to your organization. Here are a few action steps you could take:

Fill the fitness need. Fitness assessment, prescriptions, coaching and counseling are not well represented in medical practices. Practitioners lack the time and the training. There is scant health insurance reimbursement.

Despite these limitations, healthcare professionals universally acknowledge the importance of fitness for overall health. There is an opportunity for you to bridge the gap. You can do this by partnering with local lifestyle/wellness-oriented clinicians. Services can be delivered within your club or within their practice. To be successful, you’ll need to take the next step.

Network with the “complementary community.” Do a LinkedIn search for “Integrative OR Functional OR Anti-Aging Medical Practitioners” in your area. Start reaching out to these connections. Consult the directories of IFM (Institute for Functional Medicine) and A4M (American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine) for local certified practitioners. Consider attending one of the larger society meetings each year. In addition to those held by IFM and A4M, AIHM (Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine) holds an annual meeting, as does Integrative Health Summit. Make certain to attend the Club Industry Healthcare & Fitness Integration Summit on Oct. 15-16 at the Club Industry Show in St. Louis, Missouri. Once you’ve identified some potential complementary medicine candidates, invite them to your facility. Suggest going to their facility and offering a quick lunch and learn to their staff. Provide incentives for their staff and patients to align with your facility.

Capture a piece of the pie. Nutritional supplements are a $50 billion business, according to the Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), of which around $4 million are sales to clinicians. The majority of U.S. adults—68 percent—take dietary supplements, according to the 2015 CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements. Despite these numbers, many Americans are uncertain as to which, if any, supplements they should be taking.

When consumers are concerned and confused, they turn to trusted resources for guidance. Unlike the medical entry point—which is focused on condition-specific ailments (gut, brain, joint), club members share an interest in metabolism, lean body mass, strength, endurance and weight management. The sports/energy/weight management category accounted for 32 percent of sales in 2018, according to the Nutrition Business Journal 2019 NBJ Condition Specific Report, making it the largest segment by percentage. Members are increasingly turning to your fitness professionals for advice.

To take advantage of this interest, clubs can provide a focused group of tested, professional grade supplements, each with the goal of achieving optimal performance and wellness. It is important to conduct product training for your personal trainers and staff. You can stock selected SKUs or provide recommendations and profit from an affiliate code. Some professional companies will allow you to private label supplements.

A number of professional grade supplement distributors can set up customized online dispensaries for your organization or for individual trainers. In this way, you can profit from member reorders that take place online. Kaerwell is unique in helping clubs distribute private label products. You create private label to keep members captured.

Exploit the beauty-fitness interest. In 1985, comedian Billy Crystal, in an “Saturday Night Live” skit with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, established the mantra for today’s cosmetic boom: “It’s more important to look good than to feel good.” Aesthetics—facials, skin resurfacing, non-invasive body shaping, fillers, neurotoxins and cosmeceuticals—are a large, rapidly growing industry. With a CAGR of 11.5 percent, industry sales to the professional are expected to reach $22.2 billion by 2025, according to a global medical aesthetics report from Research and Markets.

Many clubs have responded by providing spa services, most notably facials, massages and cosmeceutical sales. If you are not doing these services or are not reaching out to local resources for cross referral, consider doing so.

The bottom line. If you want to grow your business in 2020, consider expanding your horizons. Look for opportunities in health and fitness integration. Build relationships. All the while, recognize the important role the club industry plays in helping America get and stay healthy—and above all, the value you can add in this effort.


Mark J. Tager, MD, serves as director for Club Industry’s Healthcare & Fitness Integration Summit, Oct. 15-16, 2020, at the 2020 Club Industry Show. He is CEO of ChangeWell Inc., a San Diego-based company that trains health and wellness professionals as well as sales and marketing people to improve their presentation, persuasion and promotion skills. In his career, he has given more than 1,200 presentations. An early pioneer in wellness, he served as director of health promotion for Kaiser Permanente in Oregon and founded one of the country’s first health promotion centers. He is on the faculty for the Duke Integrative Medicine Leadership Program. He has written 10 books, the latest of which is “Cash-Pay Healthcare: How to Start, Grow & Perfect Your Practice” (with Stewart Gandolf, MBA). He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Duke University and trained in family practice at the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center.

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