CrossFit Affiliates Team up with Doctors, Chiropractors, and Physical Therapists to Embrace a Collaborative Healthcare Approach

June 5, 2020 by
Courtesy of the Ryan Ferns Healthplex
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The CrossFit community has long talked about preventative medicine. Long been dreaming about a day when our society becomes less reliant on the traditional medical model — a model that takes a band-aid approach by treating symptoms with medication — and more focused on helping people make lifestyle changes to reclaim health and prevent or reverse disease.

Many affiliate owners share a vision of turning their gyms into all-encompassing wellness centers, where coaches can communicate with endocrinologists, neurosurgeons, osteopaths or physical therapists about what their clients need.

Their ultimate goal: To bridge the gap between the traditional medical model and fitness.

For most gym owners, it’s a vision, a pipe dream. But a handful of others have managed to put this vision into practice.

Here are three of them:

  • The Ryan Ferns Healthplex, a CrossFit affiliate in Benwood, WV with a full physical therapy clinic, a nutrition counselor and a nurse practitioner on-site.
  • The Drop-in Doc, a full-service medical clinic located within Resolution CrossFit in Yorba Linda, CA.
  • Real Life Health, a functional rehabilitation center with a chiropractor, physiotherapists and a registered massage therapist (RMT) located within CrossFit Sudbury in Ontario.

The Ryan Ferns Healthplex: Christa Giordano is a coach at the Ryan Ferns Healthplex. Her job is to work with clients via personal training, group classes, and individual program design. However, she also works alongside the facility’s physical therapy team, their on-site nurse practitioner, and their nutrition counselor, in order to support her clients as best as possible.

Photo credit: Alex Alonso IG: @alexaxalonso

Giordano’s clients begin with a functional movement screening in the physical therapy clinic. Those who need it, such as their Type 2 diabetic clients in their PreMedRx program, also meet with the nurse practitioner to have blood work done, as well as the nutrition counselor. Once they’re cleared, they begin working in the gym with Giordano or another coach.

It’s also a great system for all parties involved, Giordano explained.

  • “Sometimes, if you need to see a specialist, you need a referral from a doctor and it can take a long time. But we can handle a lot of the basic stuff right here. Our nurse practitioner can adjust diabetes medication. And we all work together. We’re in touch with the physical therapists and we’ll have team meetings to discuss our clients and what approach to take with them. Or recently, for example, I had a client with a back issue, so I went to talk to the PT to figure out a plan,” she said.
  • “We’re working together to provide that preventative medicine approach, instead of being reactionary. Having a functional medicine approach takes us to a new level,” she added.

The proof is in the pudding: Through their collaborative approach, the team at the Ryan Ferns Healthplex has become known for helping their clients put their diabetes in remission.

The Drop-in-Doc at CrossFit Resolution: Dr. Adam Schulte, DO, is the owner of The Drop-In Doc, a full-service Direct Primary Care (DPC) practice located within Resolution CrossFit.

The DPC model provides physicians an alternative to the fee-for-service insurance billing in the United States, Schulte explained. Instead, physicians like himself charge patients a monthly fee, which covers most primary care services, effectively bypassing the insurance companies.

  • “Insurance companies make it hard for us to do our job,” he said.

If you want an MRI for a patient, for example, an insurance company might stay it’s too expensive, so they tell you to do an X-ray first, even though you know an X-ray won’t show anything,  Schulte provided as an example.

Because of this, Schulte, a long-time CrossFit athlete and CrossFit Level 2 coach, went the DPC route, as he thought it would be a more effective way to service his patients.

Photo credit: Adam Ball

Teaming up with an affiliate: Coming out of medical school, Schulte was frustrated with the medical model.

  • “The model is just about slowing the deterioration of an illness,” he said.

As a doctor, you might see 30 or 40 patients a day and you throw pills at them. Meanwhile, patients get “more obese and sicker and sicker,” and their doctors just watch them lose the quality of their lives, Schulte said.

  • “We know diet and exercise are the best treatments for Type 2 diabetes,” said Shulte, who also has sports medicine training.
  • “(But) somehow, we got in this bad habit of prescribing, prescribing, prescribing. The whole system has been modified through prescription habits…What we’re taught and how we’re expected to practice are completely different,” he said.

Then, when Schulte got into CrossFit, he started seeing healthy and fit 65-year-olds, who got there through exercise and nutrition. It only made sense to him to combine his medical practice with a fitness facility.  

Though he just opened the clinic in January, Schulte said the team effort between himself and the coaches at the gym is making a difference already.

  • “Now coaches can walk down the hall and ask, ‘Is Lindsay OK to be snatching again?’ And I can say, ‘Not yet. We don’t have stability yet in that shoulder, so let’s modify,’” he said.
  • “Rather than a game of telephone (between clients, coaches and healthcare providers), doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors can all center around what the (CrossFit) affiliate network is already doing.”

It’s a “collaborative network,” where coaches are seen as “auxiliary healthcare providers,” he explained. And it’s a model he thinks any gym who has the space can adopt.

  • “This is how you change healthcare,” he said.

Real Life Health and CrossFit Sudbury: Adam Ball is both a chiropractor and the owner of CrossFit Sudbury, a facility where his wife also works as a physiotherapist.

  • “When I first moved here (to Sudbury), I didn’t know where I could send my (chiropractic) patients to for fitness, so then I figured, ‘Why don’t I send them to myself?’” said Ball about why he decided to combine his chiropractic business with a fitness facility.
Courtesy of Adam Ball (shot of him and his wife)

Today, being able to send patients to his many coaches has been hugely beneficial for the client.

  • “Then the coach has a deeper picture of the person’s background, abilities, comorbidities etc,” said Ball, who also runs a fitness program specifically for people with arthritis and another for those with osteoporosis.
  • “We try to keep the communication open between coaches and (practitioners), so long as we have permission from the patient,” he added.

Ball sees this as the way forward for all parties involved.

  • “Not everyone needs to have a medical degree to provide that guidance. And the truth is doctors don’t have time to provide the one-on-one time people need. So I think the collaborative model will be the answer for the whole healthcare crisis, especially when we consider 80 percent of healthcare is chronic illness.”

Never is this more apparent than now, he added.

  • “The COVID thing is frustrating because there aren’t many (doctors) who have said, ‘We need less sick people. We need less people who are sick with comorbidities.’ That’s where the coach comes in,” he said.
  • Ball added: “The coach needs to be an important part of someone’s healthcare team. Formally, maybe they don’t have as much education, but with the right leadership and guidance, they can deliver a large majority of the stuff physios and osteopaths do and can play an active role for people who really need the care.”

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