The Next Fitness Industry Disrupter Could Be Healthcare

Brothers Tim Skeen (left) and Jeff Skeen (right) are betting big on the next disrupter in the fitness industry being a healthcare-focused model that not only leads to improved outcomes for members and patients but also increased revenue for health clubs and medical providers while decreasing costs to health insurers.

(Editors' Note: Check out the Healthcare & Fitness Integration Summit at the 2020 Club Industry Show Oct. 14-16 in St. Louis, Missouri, for how you can implement healthcare integration at your club.)

Imagine this: Your member walks through the doors of your health club. They see a door to a 120-square-foot medical clinic to the right where labs can be drawn, biometric testing can be done and the physicians in the clinic can recommend they sign up for personal training to help them lose weight and lower their blood pressure. To the left is a door to a 400-square-foot physical therapy business where the therapists refer their clients to your club after their rehab is complete. Further back is a spa and wellness space with cryotherapy, red light therapy, massage and compression products. In the middle is the cardio, strength and functional training space. Your member’s health data is tracked from the moment they walk through the doors, not through a heart rate monitor but through a camera. They step on the treadmill, and the screen asks if they want the same workout as the day before. They shake their head yes. But before the treadmill begins, the camera senses they are about to have a heart attack. The technology not only notifies the member of their impending heart attack, but it also calls 9-1-1 and notifies the medical team in the building.

On top of all of this, imagine that health insurance companies, or payers, pay your club $100 per month to work with their insureds who have chronic conditions. And imagine that you give those insureds $50 of that $100 to come into the health club so that you can show to the payer how effectively your program saves them money.

Sound fantastical? Well, it’s not. All of these services and technology are already out there. And such medically based facilities already exist to varying levels. The movement for medical wellness facilities or medical fitness facilities has been around for many years, and it's now gaining strength.

What has held back many traditional health club operators from integrating healthcare often has been the technology, space and staffing required to do so.

So now, imagine this. A company comes into your facility, shares with you all of the preventive wellness and medical services you could offer, asks you how involved you want to be in all of this integration, and then does the work for you, helping you to gain new members and provide those new members as well as your existing members with better outcomes—while generating more revenue for you. With that, you might say that such a model could be poised to disrupt the fitness industry.

This vision was put forth by Jeff Skeen, CEO of Results Redefined, McLean, Virginia. Any health club operator who is not thinking about medically integrating at even a basic level right now could miss the boat and be out of business in 10 years, he said.

Jeff has been in the fitness business for more than 26 years with brands such as Gold’s Gym and Fitness Connection. Recently, he teamed with his brother, Tim Skeen, who has held multiple positions at a Fortune 50 insurance company, including his last position as the Enterprise CIO.

The two are investing in technology and brick and mortar companies that can help deliver the solutions that the health club industry needs to seamlessly provide the support necessary to make the partnerships with the healthcare community happen and to move the health club industry from the same model it has operated in for the majority of its existence to something new that focuses on preventing disease as well as helping to manage chronic conditions and recovery.

The United States spends $3.5 trillion annually on health care, 90 percent of which is for people with chronic and mental health conditions, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Seven in 10 deaths each year are caused by chronic conditions.

Health insurance companies have massive cost of care initiatives to reduce their expenses for certain high-cost treatments, according to Tim. Helping to prevent these conditions is a part of those initiatives. Health clubs can be great partners for payers and the medical community to help prevent those conditions because of their expertise in providing fitness programming and because of the data that health clubs can collect from members (with their permission).

Rather than just collecting basic membership data, health clubs can begin collecting core social determinants of health and other data elements that give value to the rest of the ecosystem and value to the member themselves, Tim said. Some of the data could be biometric, but some of it could be social or economic data that can make the complete data record more actionable, especially when joined with other healthcare data from the provider side and the payer side. This richer data can help improve the quality of the interactions and outcomes members achieve.

And this is true not just for members with known chronic conditions, Tim added. Richer data on healthy, young members who visit a health club multiple times per week but may, at best, only visit their doctor for an annual physical can help reveal unknown conditions that would negatively affect the member’s health. By applying proactive and preventive care earlier, health outcomes are improved, and costs to the healthcare system are reduced.

Technology for Connections

All of this data is only useful, though, if it can be shared among the members, payers, healthcare providers and health clubs. To make data shareable, technology is required, the implementation of which can seem daunting for each of the communities involved.

“There is a need to securely provide the data interoperability and real-time transport of this information between each of the stakeholders,” Tim said. “Removing the barriers to connecting each of these entities and providing a frictionless environment to allow this information to flow seamlessly is critical so as to not distract from the core things they have to do as payers with large member populations.”

The same is true for health club owners, Jeff said.

“One of the big difficulties is that the health clubs are not set up in a way to efficiently receive this information,” Jeff said.

A lot of the programs that health clubs offer today—such as Silver Sneakers and Silver & Fit—are profitable for clubs, but much of the required front desk and back office activity is manual, which not only takes time away from employees but also increases the likelihood of mistakes during data input, Jeff said.

The Skeens are investing in companies that would allow health club owners to participate in multiple programs but that require zero labor from their staff.

“It literally is us sitting between the consumer and the health club,” Jeff said. His company also would sit between the health club and the medical, wellness and payer industries.  

Payers have been reimbursing health clubs for certain programs without receiving any data on effectiveness of those programs, Tim said, but with installation of new technology allowing connectivity among the payers, health clubs and healthcare community, that data could be securely provided to prove the value of exercise to prevent certain conditions or decrease the costs to payers for people with certain conditions. For instance, a type 2 diabetic can cost a payer $12,000 per year. If a payer gave a health club $100 per month—or $1,200 per year—to help a diabetic and received data proving that the efforts were effective and cut the cost to the payer in half, that would be a win for the payer—as well as for the patient and the health club.

And health club owners could entice and keep members with chronic conditions by paying those members $50 of the $100 they get from the payer.

“Now you need the technology to start capturing the improvement of health because ultimately what we're working toward is having the insurance companies pay the health clubs for prevention,” Jeff said.

But that starts with creating a data hub that leverages the standards for interoperability and data interchange for the providers and payers inside that ecosystem so you can have the secure, real-time flow of data amongst all the different stakeholders involved, Tim said. 

“And that's something that doesn't really exist today,” he said.

But that is what the Skeens are working toward with their investments in technology companies that would work in this space.

“We're creating and partnering with companies that surround the health club operator so they could double or triple their profits just by being involved in the network,” Jeff said. “I see a vision in a world where the gyms are paying the member $50 a month to be a member because what's happening is in the background everybody in our ecosystem is taking the money that's out there, making it more efficient and effective, and the consumer is going to want to go to that club because now they are part of this whole system which results in a healthier lifestyle and outcome.”


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