I have been spending some time thinking about the current, and emerging, first-tier of our healthcare delivery system with particular emphasis on the deployment of lab testing services and IT. One new type of facility appears to be wellness/fitness centers. A recent article discussed this topic (see: Wellness centers, no longer hospital gimmicks, become money-making population health engines). Below is an excerpt from it:
Hospital-based wellness centers, once seen as marketing tools for innovative health systems, have become a major part of a hospital's population health management program in the era of quality over quantity of care. "The wave of the future is to focus less on illness and more on prevention and wellness," said Joan Phillips, vice president of Clinical Services at Beaumont Health...."Our community and our employees want and need a place to focus on both fitness and wellness. "Wellness centers attached to hospitals have evolved far beyond the local gym toward a medically integrated model. Most use exercise physiologists and other ancillary medical specialties offering a broader range of services. This also lets them set specific goals for their customers, holding them accountable for their own health."We provide many services that the $10 a month gym doesn't," said Scott Kashman, chief administrative officer for Cape Coral Hospital in Florida. "We can look at health risk factors and are well-trained to provide a program to help mitigate those risks. We also assess everyone annually to follow changes and provide accountability. "Most centers are designed to make money. Studies by the Medical Fitness Association suggest wellness center construction offers returns on investment between 6 and 10 percent with contribution margins around 30 percent. However, that can be contingent on operational decisions made by hospital administration.....Some larger hospitals are able to internally fund these centers. Others, especially the smaller regional and rural facilities, may have to find an equity or retail partner. Current resources also play a role, as it is cheaper to repurpose existing buildings and infrastructure than to build from scratch. If a new structure is needed, hospitals would look at buying versus leasing.
It makes sense that hospitals would try to diversify with wellness centers, blending fitness with wellness. The ROIs of about 6-8% and the contribution margin of 30% cited above seem attractive, particularly with the finances of hospitals getting squeezed by payers. The potential ability of hospitals to integrate a patient's health record into a fitness/wellness plan would also be appealing to many consumers. It's interesting that the reference price point cited above for hospital-affiliated wellness centers is the "$10 a month gym." Although such facilities certainly exist, a more realistic comparison would probably be the higher priced "fitness centers" that may be more skilled at satisfying consumer demands than many hospitals. At the very least, I think that the question of who/what will be the dominant players in the wellness/fitness center market is still up for grabs. I would also suggest that wellness centers could be an attractive site for point-of-care lab testing, particularly as direct access testing (DAT) without a physician order becomes the norm in most of states.