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Healthcare News: Health coaches

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Did you know that one in two patients leave the doctor’s office without fully comprehending their physician’s instructions? And just as many don’t adhere to their prescribed medication regimen, likely because they don’t fully understand it. When it comes to managing chronic conditions, the traditional approach of physician-dictated care may not be enough. Proper management of ongoing illness is seeing results through a collaborative and patient-centric approach—one that can be accomplished through the integration of a health coach.

The primary role of a health coach is to help patients understand and become active in their healthcare in an effort to improve their outcome. And there are multiple studies to back their efficacy. Findings from a type 2 diabetes study showed improved medication adherence by coached participants. And a coronary heart disease study found that coached individuals achieved a greater reduction in cholesterol. Health coaches have been credited with improved outcomes with weight loss and smoking cessation, too. For more information on health coaches and the position they may play on your team, keep reading.

Health coaches: Help your patients up their game

Some of you may be wondering, “What exactly is a health coach?” Think of health coaches as an authority on all things wellness. They are educators, mentors and motivators whose objective is to help clients achieve their own personal health goals through lifestyle changes and behaviour adjustments. Here are four common roles assumed by health coaches:

  • Self-management support: A primary role of the health coach is to educate patients on their specific illnesses and discuss mutually agreed upon ways in which patients can work toward a better outcome. Including patients in goal-setting is the best way to ensure they extend their care outside the office or hospital.
  • Bridging patient/physician gaps: Many times a disconnect between physician and patient exists. Whether it’s due to a lack of healthcare literacy, bedside manner or a combination of the two, there seems to be a gap. A health coach works to bridge the gap through post-visit follow-up to address challenges and obstacles to continuity of care. For instance, a physician may write a prescription to counter a patient’s high blood glucose levels. It will include how much to take and how often. But a health coach will take it a step further and address other issues that may prevent a patient from taking his or her medication. The coach will ensure that a patient is able to obtain the medication, understand how it relates to the condition and the importance of taking it on time, every time. A coach may even help manage the patient’s prescriptions by providing a pill dispenser or jar opener to assist with opening pill bottles.
  • Offering support: Whether a patient needs emotional support or assistance navigating an increasingly complex healthcare system, a health coach can help. Maybe a patient needs assistance coordinating care among providers. Or perhaps they need help locating and negotiating services. A health coach can also provide the much-needed emotional support physicians are often too rushed to provide. Whether in the form of holding a hand, lending an ear or even reading from an inspirational book complete with a personalized bookmark or Notebook Band-It, health coaches do it all.
  • Continuous connectivity: Health coaches strive to be a continuous point of connection for patients both during and between visits. A sense of familiarity can work wonders in keeping communication open and honest between coach and patient. Coaches can do frequent check-ins via email or phone—and some even offer home visits. They may find it helpful to get something regular on the calendar so patients know when to expect contact.

The use of health coaches is a trend that’s expected to continue. They can produce promising outcomes, which is good for patients and the healthcare system as a whole. A little extra time and effort can equate to a lifetime of improved health.

Bennett, MD, Heather D.; Coleman, MD, MPH, Eric A.; Parry, PhD, MSW, Carla; Bodenheimer, MD, MPH, Thomas; and Chen, MD, Ellen H. “Health Coaching for Patients With Chronic Illness.” Family Practice Management. American Academy of Family Physicians, n.d. Web. Retrieved 15 July 2014.

Health Coaching.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 July 2014. Web. Retrieved 15 July 2014.

Health Coach Certification.” Institute for Integrative Nutrition. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 15 July 2014.



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