Can You Afford to Make Wellness Part of Your Practice?

Shelly Reese


October 04, 2012


Prevention and disease management dominate the current healthcare conversation. But can physicians move beyond preventative health issues and actually focus on wellness? And can they make it a profitable part of their practice?

Several practices around the country are betting they can, and they're pursuing numerous avenues to make wellness pay off for themselves and their patients.

What Exactly Is 'Wellness'?

The problem in describing wellness initiatives lies in defining the term itself.

"Too often, when people talk about wellness, they don't make the important distinction between prevention and wellness," says Dr. Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Practice.

Typical preventive services, such as blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, mammography, and immunizations, are universally recognized as essential components of care. But wellness takes the conversation a step further, focusing not only on preventing illness but on improving a patient's overall wellbeing.

"Wellness is a healthy balance of mind, body, and spirit," says Dr. Gary Levinson, an internist and medical director for the Cushman Wellness Center at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, California. "Western medicine defines health as the absence of disease, but you're not necessarily healthy because your doctor can't find disease."

Even as the nation battles an epidemic of chronic disease and obesity, Americans aspire to wellness. Vitamin and supplement sales are booming, yogis have taken on celebrity status, and the Mayo Clinic has opened a Healthy Living store in the Mall of America.

"People have X number of dollars to spend on healthcare, and healthcare today involves everything from my doctor to the glucosamine and chondroitin I take for my arthritis to what I spend at the chiropractor and the massage therapist," explains Ken Hertz, a principal consultant with the MGMA Health Care Consulting Group.

Many physicians may want to offer more in the way of wellness services, says Dr. Stream, but finding a way to do so within the current insurance-based fee-for-service reimbursement model is a challenge.

"I haven't seen that much in practices promoting prevention and wellness that's driven by a financial motive," he says. "What people choose to include in their practice is driven by their interests and community need."