The future of fitness and healthcare is interlinked and the Medical Gym trend is perhaps the most significant manifestation of that future.
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In this Transformational Economy, every business becomes a health business because everybody wants to be healthy & happy.
Fit does not mean healthy, and healthy does not mean fit. One does not ensure the other because there is no utterly unequivocal causality. However, the future of healthcare and fitness is unequivocally interlinked. Therefore, I believe that Medical Gyms will grow in importance in the coming 2 to 5 years. This evolution is essentially driven by the Transformational Economy in which customers aspire to more than just an experience.
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The Transformational Fitness Economy
When explaining the Transformational Economy for the first time, I typically use the evolution in the gym industry as an easy-to-understand example. It perfectly showcases how value has been created over the years by shifting from product to service to experience and now to transformations.
For your workout, you can buy products, like dumbbells, for example, at approximately 12 euros a piece. But for 19 euros a month, gyms have many dumbbells and fitness devices at your service. Customers value this service, so they are willing to pay more. More than a decade ago, fitness became an experience with the popularity of spinning classes and boot camps. Lights, loud music and high fives became the go-to workouts people wanted to pay 20 euros per session for. This was also when CrossFit became immensely popular at a similar price. Again, customers were willing to pay four times more as they valued an experience over the service otherwise provided.
In more recent years, we saw personal trainers on the rise. These well-educated coaches don’t just provide an enjoyable experience but make people feel even healthier and happier than after boot camps. Spinning classes are all the fun, but you really feel transformed when being personally coached on exercise, stress, nutrition and sleep. You figured it out already, such transformations are valued higher than fun experiences, and people are ready to pay up to 3 times more for it.
This is how the Transformational Economy works. It’s constantly evolving towards those Customer Transformations that people are willing to pay (more) for. We haven’t seen the end of these evolutions in the fitness industry yet. Health & happiness already became more important than mere fitness with the popularity of personal trainers. Now, Medical Gyms will build on this trend by integrating medical aspects and realising even more significant transformations in the health & happiness of their customers. I firmly believe that Medical Gyms will create more value as they make the entire industry pivot again.
In my opinion, there are currently two different types of Medical Gyms, and each of these will be growing in the years to come:
1. Medical Gyms in healthcare institutions
2. Independent Medical Gyms
1. Medical Gyms in healthcare institutions
Medical Gyms might make you think of rehabilitation or physio-therapeutic centres in or related to hospitals. These fitness centres provide services, for example, after an Angioplasty or Bypass. But they are hardly ever called enjoyable experiences, to my knowledge. That’s not (often/yet) the value they create. That’s why, in most cases, those centres are not what I call a Medical Gym.
Today, hospital buildings are like impregnable medieval castles, localised on the outskirts of a city and surrounded by a huge parking lot as if it were a ditch. Let’s say they are not really inviting people in. In my first Healthusiasm book, “Making customers healthy & happy”, I described how wellness should be the front door of hospitals to become more relevant and pull people into their ecosystem. This is already happening in the United States. US hospitals think about their role in the community they serve. Medical Gyms can play an essential role in this, for example, by improving the community's population health.
Hancock Health, a member of the Mayo Clinic Network, was one of the early innovators. In 2009, they set up the first Hancock Wellness Center to deliver care and improve population health outcomes. Residents of Hancock County appreciated a hospital that genuinely invests in keeping people well and making their county one of the best places to live. Because preventing diseases (and the progression of conditions) is key to creating a sustainable future healthcare system for the population. Meanwhile, Hancock Health has three state-of-the-art medical fitness centres that are helping to transform the health landscape of the region. At the wellness centres of the Intermountain Healthcare organisation in Salt Lake, people can receive a personalised plan to live well. These Intermountain LiVe Well Centers are helping them live the healthiest life possible to prevent disease and increase energy.
In Europe and the Middle East, clinics also start using their fitness facilities as the front door to other people than the ones staying at their premises. Clinic Planas, a cosmetic surgery clinic in Barcelona, has a Medical Gym to lead customers through individualised training programs to obtain a healthy life. These programs are designed by physical trainers together with internists from the clinic. To address the diabetes epidemic in Kuwait, the Dasman Diabetes Institute presents scientifically designed fitness programs catered to people with diabetes. But they also promote a healthy lifestyle by welcoming “healthy” individuals who want to improve their fitness level in this Medical Gym.
Medical Gyms often reside “inside” a care institution that delivers experiences to both in-patients and ‘healthy’ citizens living in the community. But Medical Gyms don’t always have to be managed by or in care institutions. Sometimes they are set up in partnership with independent fitness centres in the neighbourhood. Both parties then work synergistically together to deliver medical fitness services.
Providence Medical Group, a network of hospitals and urgent care providers in Northern California, has a partnership with the Active Wellness Centers in the region. The partnership consists of integrated health programs to prevent and treat many conditions affecting well-being.
According to the Medical Fitness Association, the number of Medical Gyms part of or tied to Healthcare institutions has grown to 1400 in recent years. Hospitals engage in Medical Gyms because membership has been proven to lower the risk of hospitalisation by 13% and the risk for all-cause mortality by 60%. And isn’t that precisely what individuals and the healthcare system hope to achieve in the end?
2. The independent Medical Gyms
In a Medical Gym, clients are overseen by medical professionals as they work towards their goals. Another difference between a Medical Gym and a regular gym is that the goal is not just fitness (or rehabilitation) but managing overall health. They focus on transforming people with a more holistic, evidence-based approach to managing health.
Previous examples of Medical Gyms were tied to the healthcare industry. They turn rehab into a better experience and use their fitness facilities as an open door to the community.
But independent retail fitness centres increasingly pivot towards Medical Gyms as well. They don’t have an affiliation with a hospital, but their medically trained staff may work closely together with local primary care physicians, physiotherapists, sleeping centres and other healthcare professionals.
In doing so, Independent Medical Gyms can fill a huge void left in primary care, who has been ignorant of exercise recommendations. Although GPs often mention the importance of more exercise to certain patients in need, they are not well-placed to sufficiently support or direct that patient. There's not enough knowledge and time to discuss it, nor is it reimbursed. Exercise recommendations and coaching are then best managed in such Medical Gyms, offering GPs the ideal solution for this apparent need.
This shift in retail fitness centres is not surprising from a customer-centric standpoint either. Today, self-actualisation also leaves the customers of retail fitness centres looking for more transformations. Strength and conditioning are no longer enough to be the best version of oneself.
Barbell Medicine is a Medical Gym in San Diego that brings modern medicine to strength and conditioning. This fitness centre was founded by Jordan Feigenbaum, an experienced strength coach with a medical degree, and provides high-quality content and products along with medically oriented coaching. Their team consists of rehab clinicians, dieticians and other physicians who all support local power lifters and fitness aficionados.
Fitness is part of our overall wellness, and the mindset of “exercise is medicine” is growing. After all, people are constantly being told to engage in some form of exercise to maintain good health. The addition of medical aspects made perfect sense in that regard. That’s also what CrossFit believes in. The company that turned fitness into an experience is now turning it into a full-on transformation.
By the end of 2021, CrossFit announced the launch of Precision Care, a new boutique Gym model that partners CrossFit-trained doctors with CrossFitters. The emphasis will be on specialised testing and data you wouldn't likely get from your average general practitioner. Doctors and health coaches from CrossFit Precision Care will use detailed genomic profiles, advanced labs for blood testing, and biomarkers from wearables like Whoop or the Oura Ring to help each person build an individualised care plan to protect and improve their health. However, the advantage of Precision Care is not only for the cross-fitters themselves. Physicians who often feel alienated or stressed in their practice will also be able to re-establish a more intense relationship with their patients as part of the CrossFit community. While Precision Care is currently only available as a virtual service via telemedicine by Wild Health, plans exist to make it physical worldwide in the coming years.
These examples show that we don’t just want to look good or optimise our performance. The life aspirations we aim to fulfil in fitness centres include protection and safety, confidence and personal development. That’s precisely what Medical Gyms bring to the table. Like large fitness centres, they will establish workout plans with regular sessions. Like boutique gyms, they will also provide a holistic approach that includes sleep and stress management or nutrition. But Medical Gyms also add a medical layer on top of those gym approaches. It contains more value-based information and education by medically trained employees to reassure and support the customers in their health management.
Similar to how gyms added a medical layer, we see health centres adding a gym-like layer as well to become Medical Gyms on their own. If you are unfamiliar with health centres, these are beautifully designed, wellness-like environments focused on preventative medicine and holistic health. Health centres are a relatively recent phenomenon but still continuously evolve and grow with their popularity. Their integrated approach is primarily based on diagnostic procedures, medical consultations, and holistic wellness methods. Today, however, we see more and more health centres adding gym-like programs to this medical foundation. These individual plans, designed by specialised trainers, are training schemes that include complementary therapies, assessments and consultations to help you meet your health goals.
Lanserhof at the Arts Club in London is a fantastic combination of a cutting-edge medical health and wellness facility with an elegant private gym. The interdisciplinary team of medical experts and specialists advise on examinations and will design the ultimate tailor-made plan. They combine the best in research, innovative technology and medical expertise from qualified doctors to empower people to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. Their advanced diagnostic procedures even include an MRI scan that brings an unprecedented, sophisticated level of health screening in Gyms. Personal trainers closely monitor your progress on your journey to optimal health. LeadLife in Belgium is another health centre that functions as a Medical Gym. They help their customers to take control of their life by first measuring, scanning and analysing DNA, blood, exercise, body composition, and mobility. This is then followed up with a tailor-made improvement plan guided by health specialists. Inspired by my first Healthusiasm book, the founders of Leadlife designed an exceptional experience to realise the ultimate customer transformation: a healthier and happier life.
It is not a surprise that retail fitness is slowly shifting towards Medical Gyms. The idea has been around for many years. Today, however, it could help to lure customers back in after they’ve been accustomed to their (connected) home gyms during lockdowns. Traditional fitness centres realise this evolution is critical to creating more value for their customers. According to the Oliver Wyman and Welltok US Consumer Survey (2018), 20% of consumers are willing to pay for access to a wellness centre that medical professionals oversee.
Technological progress was another apparent instigator of this trend. Valuable health data was previously not available. Today, however, wearable fitness trackers have evolved into medically graded devices approved by FDA and EMEA. Other Medical devices are finding their way into regular workout routines as well. Companies like Levels and Veri bring Continuous Glucose Monitoring devices that help to understand your metabolism before, during and after exercising (see Metabolic Mastery). Retail fitness cannot lag as customers use these products during their workouts. More health data generated a hunger for understanding and education. Medical Gyms can translate these (and other) data into more and better insights to transform their customers.