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Raising the Standards of the Fitness Industry

A closer look at NFTA - the National Fitness Therapy Association - as it faces the challenges of the new millennium.
By Patrick Pine

           

VALUE of ACCREDITATION

  Before discussing the value of accreditation, the difference between Accreditation and Certification needs to be clarified. In the United States, businesses, organizations and institutions voluntarily seek accreditation as a means of establishing credibility in their respective markets. It is about identifying what it means to provide quality services and setting required standards of operation to provide those services within a specific industry. The accrediting agency then issues official authorization or approval to those persons or entities that comply with those standards. Accreditation is the highest level of credentialing available. On the other hand, certification is the act of confirming that someone has met a certain set of predetermined criteria established by a certifying body. Certification is often recognized as an acceptable standard of practice by general consent of the population it certifies.

Accreditation has long been recognized in the domains of hospitals, rehabilitation and higher education as the way to maintain higher standards of accountability and quality. It has also helped to establish a set of core values that include responsibility, knowledge, self-governance as well as the pursuit of quality. Although these values are readily accepted in the fitness industry, they have not been implemented in any kind of recognized fashion. Recently however, there has been much discussion regarding the actual impact of these values on personal trainers and health clubs. The question is "Why have other industries and professions embraced accreditation, while the fitness industry has not?" After all, it is a voluntary act reflecting the maturity and readiness of the industry.

Accrediting bodies are described as "quality oversight organizations," and that is what NFTA is all about. It was established by the fitness industry as an expression of responsibility, accountability and self-governance, and can be likened to the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for the fitness industry. The goal of NFTA accreditation is simply to improve the quality of services to persons served in the fitness industry.

 

NFTA'S MISSION

NFTA was formed in 1998 by a group of health club owners, fitness professionals, wellness consultants and health care practitioners in response to concerns of credibility in the fitness industry. It's mission is simple: "NFTA is dedicated to improving the quality, standards and outcomes of preventive health care services while also educating and informing the public on health, fitness and wellness issues." The private nonprofit organization accredits programs and services provided by fitness facilities and identifies professional requirements for individual fitness professionals. For accreditation, NFTA develops and maintains practical and relevant standards of quality, reviewing them annually and developing new standards to keep pace with the changing conditions and current consumer needs.

NFTA's standards address organization management, commitment to customer service, leadership, program development, quality improvements, safety, and the process of delivering services. Standards also are specific to the program being delivered, like post-rehab fitness therapy and activities for special populations. Public input is a factor in setting the standards and NFTA encourages consumers, purchasers, advocates, and public officials to provide feedback on all relevant issues. This would include issues such as safety, outcomes, consumer involvement, professional qualifications and business ethics.

 

TYPES OF ACCREDITATION

The primary purpose of NFTA is to function as an accrediting association for fitness professionals and fitness facilities through membership in the association. However, it also offers a transitory membership as described below.

Facility Membership: The facility meets NFTA standards and has passed an on-site compliance audit. This means its programs and services are designed and equipped to benefit the people it serves; and its staff, services and documentation clearly indicate that present conditions represent an established pattern of operation and that these conditions are likely to be maintained or improved in the foreseeable future. Facility Members are issued a certificate of accreditation good for three years.

Affiliate Membership: This membership is open to any fitness facility and is used as a transitional process toward accreditation. These members are provided an extensive checklist of accreditation requirements and are counseled for implementation of these requirements. An Affiliate Member does not have endorsement for treatment, but may participate in any programs not requiring accreditation. Once accreditation is achieved Affiliate Members are upgraded to a Facility Membership.

Typically the on-site audit process for a Facility Member takes one auditor five hours to complete. This varies depending on the thoroughness of the preliminary self-audit. The audit consists of reviewing policies and procedures, gathering documentation, facility inspection, observation of staff and customer interaction, and examination of business practices. The auditor also conducts interviews with staff members and consumers for verification of compliance of NFTA standards. Additionally, NFTA provides consultation by making suggestions to improve services and programs based on the auditor's recommendations. The audit report is then submitted to the NFTA office for approval. 

NFTA also offers a Professional Membership for those individuals qualified to work with post-rehab patients and people with clinical diagnosed conditions. Professional Membership requires documentation of the following: minimum of a bachelor's degree in a related field, a current certification in one of the nine certification organizations recognized by NFTA, experience and/or knowledge in dealing with post-rehab and special populations, current CPR Certification and a professional liability insurance policy with a minimum of one million dollars. When this information is collected and verified the individual is issued a Certificate of Accreditation good for three years and is designated as an Accredited Fitness Professional (AFP). 

Individual Membership is offered to any individual as a transitional membership for those people seeking the status as an Accredited Fitness Professional.

 

NFTA GAINS RECOGNITION

Over the past year, NFTA has steadily been recognized by more and more organizations and individuals for promoting and upholding quality in the fitness industry. In1999, the first year of operation, NFTA issued accreditation to ten facilities in six different states and has fourteen facilities that have applied and are in a transitional phase to qualify. There are also currently thirty-one individuals representing nine different states that have met the requirements for individual accreditation and are recognized as Accredited Fitness Professionals (AFP). Eight other individuals have applied and are in the process of finalizing their audit requirements. Fifteen companies that supply goods and services to the fitness industry have also recognized the value of the association by becoming Associate Members. More health care providers and insurance companies are recognizing the value of NFTA accreditation and referring patients to utilize their services. NFTA prides itself in offering professional resources to its members, including continuing support through consultation, an annual education conference, regular training opportunities, a state of the art Web site and an on-line newsletter.

THE DEMAND FOR ACCREDITATION

Today's fitness consumers are more sophisticated and knowledgeable than ever, and, they want more information about their fitness provider. Insurance companies are seeking more accountability and professionalism for their "after care health club memberships." Medical practitioners (physicians, chiropractors, and physical therapists) are more concerned than ever about the professional qualifications of people they refer their patients to for exercise programs. State governments are revising their approach to regulation and are beginning to develop partnerships with private-sector health care accreditation bodies such as JCAHO, CARF and NCQA. Outcomes management and performance indicators are becoming more important than ever in medical and rehabilitation services. It's only a matter of time before consumer advocates "REQUIRE" the same type of accountability and responsibility from the "fitness industry" as it does from the "health care industry."

Accreditation is the highest form of credentialing there is in any industry or profession. Within the fitness industry, it is a validation of the fitness professional and the fitness facility, which recognizes their compliance of the highest standards in the industry. NFTA is the next logical step in the maturation of the fitness industry. It was created by individuals from the industry - for the industry. Until and if there comes a time when something such as government regulation or mandatory licensing is introduced into the industry, accreditation will remain the best method of establishing and monitoring standards for the fitness industry.

 

Patrick Pine is the President and founder of NFTA. He also served as the Executive Director for the Western Association of Clubs (WAC), a regional association of IHRSA from 1993 to 1998. He has a Masters Degree in Physical Education from Colorado State University and more than 30 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. His experience includes teaching, coaching, recreational management, sales & marketing manager, wellness director, club owner/manager and consultant. He may be reached at (720) 941-0492. Additional information about NFTA is available at www.nfta.org.


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