Does Your Doctor Prescribe Exercise?
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image by Zac Peckler

My first session at SXSW this year was a discussion with the CEO of Aetna, Mark T Bertolini, about healthcare and technology. I was impressed with the discussion; he seemed to have some empathy and understanding of how frustrating navigating the red tape of the healthcare system can be. He himself had an accident that left him partially paralyzed and has a son who battled cancer. It appears to have given him a genuine desire to make heath insurance and healthcare work better.

I was also impressed with his support of prevention. He talked of stress reduction techniques and yoga as potential covered services. When he was asked about gym memberships, however, he didn’t seem to share the passion for paying for this method of treatment. Partly because it’s hard to prove the benefits of a gym membership. Thousands pay for one each month, but how many actually use it?

When the Q & A session opened up I was second in line at the microphone. My question, as best as I can remember since I was a wee bit nervous, was as follows:

How do fitness professionals like myself become part of the preventative health care team? How do I get physicians to refer patients to me and get that expense covered?

I found his answer frustrating and profound at the same time.

He pointed out, correctly, that not all personal trainers are the same. Some personal trainers are highly educated and dedicated to their profession. Others paid $99 and took a 10 question quiz online and “poof” became a personal trainer. Until we, as an industry, create standards for our profession we won’t be able to be a part of the system.

I was frustrated because I know the value of exercise as medicine and the roll it can play in disease prevention, preserving quality of life and saving money for the patient and the insurance company. I have clients who have been told by doctors to lose weight and exercise but when asked how to do those things, the doctors don’t have much advice to give.

I found the answer profound because he’s right. We have to start acting like professionals if we want to be treated as a professionals. I made the decision when I got certified to certify with the American College of Sports Medicine, one of the oldest and most respected certifying organizations in the country. But someone else can go through less rigorous work and examination and still call himself or herself a certified personal trainer-same as me.  There is no licensure or standards outside of each certifying body.  There is no quality control.

I’m not sure how to solve this problem. I can’t say a federal or state licensing procedure would solve the problem, although extra steps will often deter those who are in the business just to make a quick buck. There are many quality certifying bodies but to get them all to agree on the requirements to be a certified personal trainer might just take an act of Congress.

We have to do something as a team to make this happen. As much as modern medicine can do, it can’t seem to fix the real problems-sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits. Doctors are unprepared to handle the questions since their medical training is woefully inadequate when it comes to exercise and nutrition. As a personal trainer, I am more than willing to step up to the plate and do whatever it takes to become a resource for doctors, helping them fill the gaps in their training. I’ll get more education, recertify or register with the state if that it gives me the ability to help more people live in healthy, happy and fit.

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