When And How Health Coaches Should Refer Patients to Other Providers

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We seek out specialized professionals to carry out specific jobs. Think about hiring contractors for repair work in your home. Whether you hired them for previous jobs, they were referred to you, they are included in your home insurance plan, or you read their online reviews, you generally trust that these specialized professionals are good at what they do and will seek them out for specific services. 

Imagine you are in your client’s shoes for a minute. When it comes to their health and wellness, they wouldn’t seek the support of their dentist for the diagnosis of a skin problem they’re having, a nutritional evaluation, or a fitness plan. 

As a health and wellness coach, it is your moral and legal responsibility to know the scope of your practice. 

When your client is seeking support for something beyond your scope of practice, you can help them navigate the healthcare system so that they can gain the support they need. 

Sometimes, it can be difficult knowing when the support your client requires is out of your scope of practice and how to help them find the support they seek. Here, we provide you with a reminder of the role of the health and wellness coach, how to identify when you need to refer them to other health professionals, and how to guide them in finding the additional support they may need. 

Learn what it takes to become a Health & Wellness Coach!

Reminder: The Role of a Health and Wellness Coach

Health and wellness coaches are professionals who, on individual and group levels, facilitate conversations and empower clients to set and achieve goals. They have unique skillsets that combine psychology, behavioral change theory, and life coaching, as well as an understanding of the overall healthcare industry. 

Health and wellness coaches have gained incredible traction in the past several years, as research shows how their skills can be taken advantage of to bridge the gap between traditional healthcare options and behavioral changes. 

When to Refer Your Client to Another Healthcare Professional

You might refer a client to another healthcare professional in any of the following instances:

  • Their needs are outside of your scope of practice. If they are seeking a diagnosis; recommendations for medication; or you’ve identified they have complex physical, emotional, or mental health needs that you are not equipped or legally permitted to support them with, it is important to suggest a referral to another health professional or that they seek out the support of someone else. 
  • They have come to you to seek your support in finding professionals that meet their needs. In this case, they see you as someone who will help them navigate the waters of the healthcare and insurance industries and perhaps alternative options. 
  • You are having difficulties meeting their needs. In this case, you might refer them to another health coach. If you are having trouble building a positive, constructive relationship with the client, you may want to suggest they seek someone else and be clear that you think you aren’t the right professional to meet their needs at this time. Here are some tips for communicating this to them. 

How Health Coaches Can Support Their Clients’ Healthcare Journey

Once you determine that some of your client’s health needs cannot be met within your scope of practice, what role can you continue to play in your client’s healthcare journey?

The role of the health coach becomes equally, if not more, important after your client seeks support from other health professionals. 

Depending on your personal interests, capacities, complementary training, and relationship with your client and other health providers, you may take on one or several roles in your client’s healthcare experience and journey. The potential roles you can take on, which we describe below, can change between clients and throughout your career, but they help to understand how you play into a larger experience your client may have with health providers.

Integrative Support Role 

The integrative support, or common thread role, is the best-known role of the health and wellness coach. 

In this role, you guide your client so they gain a greater awareness of the different practices that affect their wellness, and you support them in adopting practices they want to include in their life with the goal of improving their health and wellbeing. 

Helping clients understand, evaluate, and implement recommendations from other health professionals may be part of this integrative support role. 

Additionally, you can help your client find the common threads among all of their health and wellness practices. When your client has expressed a desire to adopt different health and wellness practices and has verbalized and demonstrated a readiness to implement them, you can utilize your know-how and tools to define flexible, realistic, and empowering goals and a timeline. 

The Role of the Missing Puzzle Piece

Your client may have come to you because they were referred to you by a friend of your client or another health professional. In this role, you take on the role of the “missing puzzle piece.” 

Those who refer clients to you often believe that you will be the key to helping them understand, ground, and apply recommendations from other medical professionals, and you will support them in finding the best way forward. This may include goal setting, supporting them in trying new things or validating their experience. 

Role of the Navigator

Think back to the example at the beginning about the different specialists you might seek out. If you want to carry out a big renovation on your house and you don’t know where to start, you might seek the support of a project manager who will take the time to understand what you want your renovation project to look like and can identify the right contractors for your job. They might even have the ability to support you throughout the entire process. 

Just like the renovation project manager helps their clients navigate the waters of design and contracting, health and wellness coaches may take on the role of navigator for their clients. In this role, your client has expressed a need to identify a specialist who can meet another health need of theirs or you recognize their need is out of your scope of practice. 

If you feel comfortable and confident in the role of the navigator, and your client has asked you to support them to find other healthcare providers that meet their health needs and budgetary or insurance limitations, work with your client to gain a better understanding of the following:

  • Their health history
  • Their specific healthcare needs
  • Other healthcare professionals that they have had appointments with
  • Their insurance plan and network
  • Direct consultation with doctors and alternatives, if your client doesn’t have insurance

Along the way, explain to your client why you have recommended certain specialists and help them understand their insurance plan and the healthcare system. 

If you have the know-how, you may want to share what to expect in terms of costs and appointments with the specialists, and you may want to work with your client on how to ask key questions, express their concerns and desires, and be their own advocate. 

If you don’t feel confident in the role of the navigator, not to worry. It may take many years of experience and networking to develop connections with other trusted and talented healthcare professionals and the know-how to navigate insurance policies and the complex healthcare system. If this is the case, it is important to be honest with your client about your limitations. After that, you can ask your client for some time to do research on other health professionals, their insurance policy, and potential avenues of support. If your client agrees, make sure to follow through. 

A Reminder of the Power of Multidisciplinary Health Teams

No professional can meet everyone’s needs. While it is normal for individuals to seek the support of multiple professionals who do not have any communication with one another, when it comes to someone’s health, it may be a missed opportunity to have a more holistic understanding of an individual’s wellness and health journey. 

Health and wellness coaches are increasingly being included in multidisciplinary healthcare teams as ways to improve patient outcomes and overall wellness. 

Research has demonstrated the incredible power of multidisciplinary healthcare teams. As stated in a research paper published by the Medical and Health Science faculty at the University of Auckland, “Recent evidence suggests that improvement in teamwork in healthcare can lead to significant gains in patient safety, measured against the efficiency of care, complication rate, and mortality. Interventions to improve teamwork in healthcare may be the next major advance in patient outcomes.”

The researchers propose the following seven actions that help to overcome barriers to team communication in healthcare: 

  • Teaching effective communication strategies
  • Training teams together
  • Training teams using simulation and modeling, including case studies
  • Defining inclusive teams to be a cohesive whole with common goals
  • Creating democratic teams
  • Supporting teamwork with protocols and procedures
  • Developing an organizational culture and supporting healthcare teams

If you currently work in a multidisciplinary team or hope to do so, you can consider these proposals as best practices for healthcare professionals to work together. 

Main Takeaways

When health and wellness coaches have an intimate understanding of their scope of practice and role in their clients’ healthcare journey, they can have an empowering role in clients’ lives. In some cases, empowering clients may mean referring them to other health professionals.

Knowing when to refer clients to other health professionals helps clients to take control of their personal vision of health and wellness and make the most of the tools that can help them get the best care. 


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Article Categories: Fitness & Wellness Business
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