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Dec. 6, 2021 — In medical school, Julie Foucher, MD, found herself slipping away from exercise and other healthy habits.
And as she was learning about how lifestyle choices cause most of this country’s chronic health problems, she also discovered CrossFit. She enjoyed the varying challenges, the sense of community, and seeing people lose weight, get off medication, and improve their lives.
Now, Foucher is among the developers of CrossFit Precision Care, probably the most prominent, direct step to marry health care and fitness – yet another tie to the growing direct primary care trend.
CrossFit says it will offer “an individualized, proactive, and data-driven approach” to lifelong health — using CrossFit-training doctors and telemedicine.
“The sterile doctors’ office visit is not really the place to create health,” says Foucher. “Our health care system is great at addressing acute issues. It’s not really set up to be able to treat the root causes of disease, which are generally lifestyle-based.”
“Health is an expression of fitness over your lifetime,” says Foucher.
It’s available in eight states now, with plans to be nationwide in 2022. If successful, CrossFit Precision Care could provide options for people who are serious about their fitness and taking an active role in their well-being.
Trying to Find Some Kind of Merger
The idea of blending health care with fitness has been intensifying in recent years. In fact,
“it’s been talked about for decades,” says Bryan O’Rourke, president of the Fitness Industry Technology Council and a member of the board of directors of IHRSA, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.
Some big insurance companies have tried to encourage healthier habits by offering discounts on certain plans, health club memberships, and discounted exercise eqiupment, he says. But to O’Rourke, that’s at odds with the companies’ profit mission.
“It’s really a marketing thing … not representative of what the merger of the two would be,” he says. “The health care insurance system in general does not make money from people NOT getting sick.”
But some kind of merger should happen, as three-quarters of chronic illnesses in this country are lifestyle-related, he says.
And direct primary care and concierge health care are “aligned to catering to the person,” he says. “They’re not going through the insurance companies for reimbursement. The real growth is in private pay.”
Major insurance providers have been working with employers to help employees adopt better habits so that the company’s health care costs can be managed better.
“What’s the solution to America’s [health care] problem? For us, it’s thinking outside the box,” says Shell Waller, a client manager for Cigna. “You’re gonna have to start doing something different to see different results.”
That means things like workplace wellness checks, measuring body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and more.
Many people don’t know they have diabetes or high blood pressure, so the information can help them take steps to improve their health and lower healthcare costs for employers, Waller says.
And despite naysayers, Waller says, “You don’t hear about it when group costs go down, but it happens. For example, through our diabetes program with customers in Memphis, 92% of people lost weight, 50% decreased BMI, 67% lowered their blood pressure and 83% decreased cholesterol. Having a healthier workforce is helping to lower costs for employers.”
Still, corporate America’s health care plans for its workforce might not jibe with everyone, including perhaps, anyone spending money on health and fitness activities.
In a recent survey, CrossFit members said their top priority in selecting a health care provider is finding someone who understands their unique body and health needs.
“People shouldn’t be treated like they’re statistics in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model,” says Matt Dawson, MD, co-founder of CrossFit Precision Care. “We’re all unique, with different genes, lifestyles, and dreams. We should be treated as such.”
‘Medically Necessary Exercise’ as Rx
Lisa Dougherty created the MedFit Network in 2013. It’s for fitness, allied healthcare professionals, gyms and studios, and it’s a community resource. The MedFit Network helps people find fitness and health professionals who help with chronic disease, disabilities, orthopedic issues and more.
She plans to launch MedFit Care, a telehealth company, next year that will offer evidence-based “medically necessary exercise prescriptions” for consumers that can be tax deductible or covered under health saving or flexible spending accounts.
Too many people want “a pill or a procedure” to cure them – rather than changing habits to prevent and treat chronic illness, she says.
The CrossFit folks agree with that. Ideal clients will be existing clients and their family and friends who are looking for health care alternatives. CrossFitters like the focus on functional fitness, with exercises that mimic “real-life” situations, the variety, and the individualized intensity of the workouts, which change every day.
CrossFit Precision Care costs a little less for CrossFit members, starting at $99 monthly, compared to $119 for nonmembers. Foucher says those fees are typical of the range for direct primary care.
CrossFit Precision Care members are assigned a doctor and health coach, who are CrossFitters themselves. Visits are through telemedicine, with a visit to a local lab for a blood panel and a home kit to provide DNA. Personal care plans are based on DNA, lab work, medical history, lifestyle, goals, and progress checks to see what’s working and what can be tweaked.
It can replace a primary care doctor, but it doesn’t have to, Foucher says. Routine screenings, like mammograms and colonoscopies, are encouraged, and when an in-person doctor is needed, CrossFit can recommend some.
“Instead of using the doctor’s office to create health, we’re using the CrossFit affiliates, and we’re just building the health care around them,” she says. “We’ll see fitness that’s rooted in health rather than just quick fixes or appearances. Paying crazy premiums and having high deductibles for basic care isn’t really sustainable.”