Club Insider

Medical Fitness and the Physician Referral Pathway

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Dr. Cary WingDr. Cary Wing

The November 2010 Edition of Club Insider included an article entitled, "Time for Doctors to Prescribe Exercise." This excellent commentary, written by Joe Moore and Edward Phillips, MD, emphasized the important role physicians can play in increasing the physical activity levels of adults in the United States. Evidence indicates that patients are more likely to exercise if doctors use the prescription pad for ordering physical activity, as well as for ordering medications. The power of the physician is well documented.

Since the Exercise is Medicine initiative was launched in 2007 by the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), there has been increased exposure for the medical fitness difference and the medical fitness model. A key component of the model is the physician referral pathway and a physician's involvement in an individual's continuum of care, or circle of health. The Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2011 identified physician referrals as 10th in the Top 20 list. Physician referrals can connect patients with knowledgeable clubs and fitness professionals in the community. If a club is positioned to provide safe, relevant and effective exercise programs, a physician will be confident in referring a patient to the facility.

Establishing relationships with physicians through a general referral program, or through a specific structured program, can enhance a fitness facility's credibility in the community and increase the membership base. Does your facility have protocols in place to go beyond the traditional club model and incorporate a structured physician referral program (SPRP)? The platform involves several key components and many of these are outlined in the Guidelines for Facility Certification (See the December 2010 Edition of Club Insider). In addition, there are other factors that are important and will increase the likelihood of success.

Structured Physician Referral Programs

Examples are abundant through-out the health club industry of successful, structured referral programs. The programs generally vary from 60 to 90 days in length, and a patient commits financially only to the SPRP with an option to join the facility at a reduced rate once completed. The marketing concept often used to "sell" the initial program is $60 for 60 days. The following information identifies a few best practices from several facilities (See Acknowledgements Below). Review these to determine if your club has the potential to launch a SPRP.

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