- To become aware of the risk that exists working with different populations.
- To learn practical steps that can be taken to reduce risk.
Pre-Existing Conditions Can Lead to Serious Claims
Pre-existing or unknown health conditions have resulted in the most serious claims filed against fitness professionals. Clients can have a number of pre-existing health conditions that can be dangerous if their fitness professional is not aware of them or ignores them when determining appropriate workouts and intensity levels.
The very worst cases of claims against fitness professionals involve high intensity activity that leads to heart attack or stroke in clients with preexisting cardiovascular conditions. Millions of dollars have been paid out in cases where the fitness professional ignored a disclosed health condition, resulting in a client’s death. Heirs can and do file suit against fitness professionals after a death.
Pre-existing orthopedic conditions, can lead to a high severity of injury. Claims for injury to a client who has already had a shoulder, hip or knee replacement can be very costly. For example, it can cost more than $100,000 to repair or re-do a hip replacement.
Any preexisting condition should be taken into consideration when preparing a client’s fitness plan.
Deconditioned Clients Are At-Risk for Injury
Deconditioned clients can be sedentary, overweight, or both. They can be older or younger. They might have never exercised before or not exercised regularly in a number of years. This population might not have serious pre-existing health conditions but they can have serious injuries from activities that are performed with too high of an impact or too high of an intensity for their bodies. Claims are presented every day for clients who are deconditioned and encouraged by a fitness professional to preform high impact or strenuous activity then fall and end up with a serious orthopedic injury. Being overweight or fragile can lead to a greater severity of the injury than an active person might experience with the same fall. Deconditioned people also tend to lose their balance and fall more easily than a person who is used to working out.
Orthopedic claims can result in tens of thousands of dollars per claim due to the high cost of MRIs, surgeries, physical therapy and loss of work even in relatively minor cases, such as a broken ankle.
Deconditioned clients need to gradually increase their intensity and a fitness professional needs to get feedback from them on how they feel before, during and after workouts. Fitness professionals should always put a client’s safety first.
What a Fitness Professional Can Do to Protect Themselves and Their Clients
1. Health History Questionnaires
Determining appropriate intensity levels for clients is critical to injury prevention. The use of comprehensive background activity history and health history questionnaires is the most important first step a fitness professional can take to protect themselves. If there is a pre-existing condition, fitness professionals should require the client to obtain a physician’s release for the activity. This is the best tool a fitness professional has to make sure it is safe for the client to begin the personal training program and document it in the client’s file.
Fitness professionals should review all of their clients’ health histories regularly. A health condition could develop over time that a client fails to mention. For example, they could begin taking a medication that has a side-affect that could seriously impact their participation in high intensity activity. Clients fail to update their fitness professionals every day on new medications. Claims are reported for clients that fall due to lightheadedness all the time. In many cases, medication is involved that the fitness professional knew nothing about.
2. Relationship Building
A great deal of becoming a successful fitness professional involves relationship building with clients. The same skills that help a fitness professional motivate, earn trust and help improve their client’s lives, can also be key to reducing the risk of injury and illness when training their clients. Asking questions and developing good listening skills both help fitness professionals grow their business and help them evaluate how their clients are progressing. Keeping good communication in the fitness professional-client relationship will encourage a client to communicate if their health history changes or if they are experiencing discomfort or pain that is not typical of the activity in which they are participating.
3. Documentation is Critical
Keep clients’ health history questionnaires and any physician release documents on file in the event of an injury or claim. It is also import to document training sessions on how a client is progressing with their fitness plans. When working with deconditioned or fragile clients, document the gradual increase of activity and the client’s feedback so that there is a record of the training sessions, if the client falls or is injured. Include notes on conversations where health history is stated or discussed for all clients.
There are examples of real claims where clients have told their fitness professionals that their doctors had not released them to work out again after a surgery or illness and the client wanted to work out any way. After they are injured the client can still file a claim against the fitness professional. Always document and put the client’s safety first.
Fitness Professionals Should Be Proactive
It is critical for a fitness professional to be proactive in protecting themselves from claims and their clients from injury. Proper and thorough screening, communication and documentation, along with following the best practices of their certification programs in working with different populations will go a long way to helping a fitness professional be successful as well as reducing their risk of liability claims.
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