A most extraordinary effort is afoot aimed at establishing a whole new category and kind of professional: a "Wellness Professional." The effort represents an initiative, still very much in the concept creation stage, of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), on whose 2020 Visioning Board I serve. The Canadian-based organization is one of the most exciting, "out there" groups on the map. It represents an eclectic, interdisciplinary team of fitness coaches, physiologists, doctors, teachers, public health educators, patient advocacy organizations, community leaders and others, all with the same mission to help give all people the tools they need to age with good health.
On a teleconference call today, we brainstormed how to define the qualifications and role of a Wellness Professional. It is definitely that of a coordinator well-versed in multiple dimensions of aging, including social, spiritual, physical, and other realms. It is viewed as a central player in a hub and spoke system. But over time, it is conceivable that the role may pass from a single individual who works as a resource manager and communicator to that of a process or an electronic algorithm that directs, guides, and even drives intervention to insure an older person's optimal wellness. It is also viewed as being community-based, as opposed to being institutionally based. In a retirement community, such a player may even be considered the CEO!
Under leadership of the Obama Administration, last year's healthcare reform legislation clearly spotlighted a role for preventive services. But they were cast in the context of a medical model, namely doing such things as routine blood tests as checks for keeping diabetes under control or regular blood pressure checks for managing hypertension and thus preventing strokes. And they require the services of a medically trained healthcare provider. What ICAA's Visioning Board is conceptualizing is a professional who interfaces with healthcare providers and links with information in the medical record but who may not necessarily be a trained provider of healthcare services. The thinking is that this individual will know much more about fitness, nutrition, and spiritual healing than the large majority of healthcare providers. The Wellness Professional will also be sensitive to cultural issues and concerns that affect the myths, health-seeking behaviors, and priorities of certain individuals, as well as be knowledgeable about gender differences that affect a person's wellness, as do their economic status and personal health literacy.
In an era that is focusing increasingly on patient centeredness and moving away from hospital-based healthcare and physician centeredness as our healthcare delivery system has traditionally been structured, it's time for each of us individuals to own our wellness, especially as we grow older and begin experiencing the effects of the aging process. Rather than waiting for our primary care physician to instruct us in how to control our cholesterol through diet and exercise, it's time to seize the challenge and step into it, avoiding overreliance on medications whose costs and side effects may sap one's energy and resources. It's about exercising smartly as we age and on age-appropriate exercise equipment. It's about always wearing sun block and a hat and sunglasses, to protect our skin from cancer and our eyes from cataracts.