As little as ten years ago, it was rare to find health coaches integrated into the patient care cycle. While health coach integration into the healthcare system is still not universal, clinics, hospitals, and individual health professionals are beginning to recognize the positive impact that health coaches can have on patient and client outcomes.
The positive impact health coaches have on patient and client outcomes is not only anecdotal. There is a growing body of research that demonstrates the impact that health coaches have on patient wellbeing and the overall success of healthcare systems.
This article summarizes five ways health coaches are integral to excellent care and improved patient outcomes.
Health Coaches Answer Questions Between Doctor’s Visits
When someone visits their physician, it is likely they will only have about fifteen minutes of face time with them. During that time, they are often given the highlights of test results and physical exams, given a diagnosis and a brief explanation, and provided with a treatment plan and lifestyle recommendations.
Needless to say, that is a lot of information for anyone to process! Many patients leave their doctor’s appointment with more questions than answers and few people to turn to and help them all work through it. When clinics and hospitals work with health coaches, you may be assigned a patient to work with as a coaching client. In other cases, the person may seek you out on their own. In either case, the client’s goal is often to better understand their health and make concrete steps toward improving it.
Health coaches represent a resource for clients to get their questions answered and walk through anything they didn’t understand. You can help to explain lab results and diagnosis so that they feel like they have a better understanding of their condition.
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Health Coaches Help Clarify Treatment Plans
At the end of most clinical visits, a patients is left with a prescription and lifestyle recommendations. If the diagnosis is relatively new, or if the treatment plan changes significantly, the patient walks away bewildered, trying to make sense of the whirlwind experience they just had at their doctor’s office.
In addition to answering their questions about their diagnosis and lab tests, you can help to clarify treatment plants. While health coaches can help to explain what different prescription medications do, health coaches can offer potentially life-changing support by carefully describing lifestyle factors and proposed lifestyle changes and how these can impact their health.
Health Coaches Help Provide a Framework for Clients to Take Steps Toward Health Behavior Change
In addition to prescribing medication, the physician’s specialty is discovering health issues and providing information on what the patient can do to reduce further complications and other health risks. However, they hope that the patient can devise a plan on their own to “follow instructions” and adhere to the treatment plan. Often, the patient is overcome by the roadblocks they face due to their social and physical environment and physical, psychological, or emotional limitations. These can affect what is often referred to as “treatment plan adhesion” in the patient care process.
Where health coaches add value to healthcare systems is their carefully-designed coaching processes. Through a coaching framework, health coaches work together with clients to identify realistic goals related to their health and build a plan to help reach those goals based on health behavior change science.
In fact, research shows that when health coaches work with clients who live with chronic diseases, their outcomes improve significantly. Additionally, health coaches specialized in pharmacy make a significant difference in promoting pharmaceutical treatment adhesion, also improving patient care and outcomes.
Health Coaches Check in on Clients
Health coaches usually have more frequent face-to-face time with clients than clinical professionals do. A health coach could meet weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly with a client. Those same clients are likely to see their physician every two to six months.
Frequent sessions with your client allow you to check in on how implementing the agreed-upon health behaviors is going and make adjustments when necessary. You can also check on how they are doing and feeling in general. Research shows that accountability is a powerful tool to help build self-efficacy and promote health behavior change, especially in the early stages of behavior modification.
If there are significant or unexpected changes that they may not have paid much attention to, you can also raise a red flag and encourage them to speak to their physician or therapist.
Health Coaches Help Clients Feel Like They Aren’t Alone
Many people feel isolated and alone on their health journey. Even if they have close friends or family members, they may not always feel comfortable talking about their health issues and verbalizing their struggles.
The health coach is a professional that represents an outlet and support to clients. When health coaches successfully build trust and a safe space for clients to express themselves, they can help clients feel supported in the process of achieving their health goals. You can let them know that you are there to support them during the process, including answering their questions, discussing how they are feeling with regard to their integrative health, and telling you about how their current treatment plans are going.
For many people, the health coach’s office may be the only place they can comfortably do this. By taking a trauma-informed approach, you can help to validate their experiences, feelings, and perceived limitations.
Health coaches are health professionals that are complementary to the health system. They help to fill gaps in the care process to help clients adopt realistic and sustainable health behavior change through a greater sense of understanding and empowerment rather than through fear and confusion.
As a result, many healthcare systems are integrating health coaches into the patient care process; they understand the research and know that including health coaches helps to significantly improve patient outcomes, including managing symptoms, adhering to medication schedules, and adopting behavior change that promotes their overall health and wellness.
Whether you’re starting a new career or seeking to advance in the field, AFPA’s health coach certification program can help you achieve your goals.