The health of our nation is worse than previously thought and declining more rapidly than most experts predicted. Our industry is making progress and changing lives but not quickly enough or with enough impact to change the course of the nation's collective health.

Better biomechanics, user-friendly interfaces on equipment and simpler training techniques are useful but will take us only so far in improving the health of people today and in the future.

Only the total integration of health, wellness and disease management will make a meaningful difference. Poor lifestyles are symptomatic of over-programmed lives, longer working hours, increased stress and factors inevitable in our culture. As a fitness industry, we cannot change people's work stressors, fix family relationships, change their work environment and monitor their eating habits.

The industry must work towards a cohesive model that improves an individual's health. We must share important information between every party that has an interest in an individual's long-term health. This includes fitness professionals, dieticians, physical therapists, life coaches and physicians. In essence, it includes anyone who has an interest in the well-being of their client or patient.

Our current system is so fragmented that the parties concerned with a person's health rarely have a coordinated plan to help that person become healthier. Do your fitness trainers know what protocols and exercises were prescribed by a physician and executed by a physical therapist for a given client? Does your health club's computerized tracking and logging system show when a member's health or lifestyle status changes as a result of a physician's exam? If a group exercise instructor notices a change in a member's heart rate recovery, energy levels or other physical symptoms, do they share this with that member's primary care practitioner? With few exceptions, the answer to these questions is no.

A truly integrated approach to wellness can only work by using technology as a facilitator. There are too many moving parts and no ecosystem among practitioners to access and, more importantly, act on a client's health care status, which is always changing based on age, stressors and lifestyle factors. Companies must create systems that allow health care and fitness professionals to gain instant access to information, share that information, then act responsibly on that information. This ambitious undertaking will take the cooperation of competing companies. The process will also take years, not months, and significant human capital.

The following are some ideas on what will work, subject to compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and other laws:

  • A Web-based portal where client/patient information is accessible by all parties with their client's permission.

  • The ability for practitioners to instantly access important information from their counterparts and provide relevant updates immediately.

  • Real-time outbound e-mails and text messages that alert any practitioner to changes in the health or lifestyle status of a shared patient or client.

  • Online standard reporting forms that provide a seamless system of action for each practitioner according to their scope of practice.

This system will be sophisticated and must include cooperation from all levels of practitioners. The system also needs to be simple to use and work on a common technology platform. This may represent possibly the most significant undertaking we've yet to see in our industry, but the alternative is not acceptable.

Gregory Florez is CEO of FitAdvisor Health Coaching Services and First Fitness Inc., which was rated as the No. 1 health coaching online training service by The Wall Street Journal. Florez can be contacted at gregory@fitadvisor.com.