Author: Troy Cook, VP of Business Development

According to Forbes, 70% of U.S. employers offer general wellness programs to employees. That’s up from only 58% just eight years ago! And Health Coaches have a big part to play in these programs.

Employers are forever facing the uphill battle to have happy, healthy employees. Individuals who take better care of themselves will often be more engaged in their work, be more productive and stay with their current employer. Another by-product of a happy, healthy workforce is lower health care costs. Some of the way’s employers are trying to get their workforce healthier is by offering effective health management programs; wellness, disease management, coaching and more. In this article, we will examine health coaching as a key component in health management programming.

Health Coaching Defined
Let’s start at the beginning. You may have heard of health coaching or may already be offering some level of coaching to your workforce today. By simple definition, a health coach advises and guides individuals to achieve sustainable health and lifestyle change. The best coaches will build one-on-one relationships in order to make wellness plans and set health goals that will work for a specific person. When it comes to cultivating healthier living, health coaches know “one size fits all” won’t cut it. Instead, they look at the needs of each individual and tailor action plans.

Did You Know?

  • In the United States, seven of ten deaths are caused by chronic disease (1)
  • 50% of Americans have a chronic disease; 25% have multiple chronic diseases (2)
  • Chronic disease will account for $47 trillion in healthcare expenditures by the year 2030 (3)

It is especially important to note that nearly 85% of chronic disease diagnoses are not genetically attributed (4). This translates to environmental and behavioral factors and the need to work with individuals to evaluate their environmental influences and change their behaviors to curb the onset of chronic disease.

Traditionally, doctors help monitor their patient’s health and help set goals but with larger patient workloads, often times the time isn’t there to watch and monitor all the steps to take to assist the patient in achieving their goals. This is where health coaches come in to play a role in impacting a member’s health and well-being. Coaches can help fill the gap to assist members as part of the support team to track goal progress, address barriers to accomplish goals, assess readiness to change, and assist with education, tools and resources.

Not All Coaching Models Are Equal
It is important to realize that not all coaching programs are created the same. Following is a brief description of three main coaching models; lifestyle coaching, at-risk coaching and disease management coaching.

Lifestyle Coaching: This coaching model is intended for individuals to maintain their current state of health and well-being. Participants would be provided education for better consumer decisions and receive rewards for continuing their state of health.

At-Risk Coaching: This coaching model is for members with 3 or more metabolic risk factors who are in a “pre” disease state and are typically not supported by disease management or wellness programs. Coaches provide education and coaching tailored to the member’s specific risk factors to slow the progression of their emerging disease. Engaged members will be equipped with the knowledge and empowerment skills to proactively manage risk factors as well as progress towards improved biometric numbers and/or lowering the number of metabolic risks.

Disease Management Coaching: This coaching model is a holistic approach involving assessment of needs, collaboration with the treatment team, care planning and education. The program goals are; to educate and promote members self-management skills, coordinate healthcare treatments and engage providers on evidence-based practices and their member’s progress.

You may be most familiar with lifestyle and disease management coaching as those are both very traditional programs in the industry. But it is important to note the invaluable need for coaching individuals not defined as healthy but not yet diagnosed with a chronic condition. By identifying and coaching to those specific risk factors, the individual can receive the extra tools and resources needed to take control of their health.

Health Coach Success
So we have defined what health coaching is and outlined different types of coaching programs but what does success look like? You may have specific ideas in mind to reach your health and wellness goals and make sure you share these with your vendor/partner. However, there are general guidelines for an effective health coaching program.

  • Trusting Relationship: Individuals who have just one coach throughout their entire program will more likely establish a trusting relationship and do better than if they speak with a new coach for each coaching session.
  • Open Communication: When the coach and participant can reach out to each other whenever needed, this helps to keep on track with the action plan and achieving their health and wellness goals,
  • Communication Options: Offering multiple options for communicating with their coach, tracking goal progress and seeing that progress is key. These options may include email, phone, text, online and mobile apps.

It is important to note that a program needs to employ all the above tactics to be impactful. Technology alone (ex: mobile apps) often will not push participants to complete their action plan. The human touch (coach) behind the technology is the key to moving the needle and is a significant piece of the puzzle towards measurable impact.

Finding the Right Partner
You now know the value of coaching programs; let’s now examine what to look for in a partner. You may already have coaching programs in place but you can take a step back to evaluate your current partner to ensure you are providing the best solutions for your employees.

Below is a short list of qualifications to look for:

  • Ensure coaches are trained and certified
  • Look for partners that encourage coaches have specialized education/certifications to address members with specific health needs (ex: diabetes, heart condition, etc.)
  • Seek partners who train their coaches to conduct assessments such as Patient Activation Measures (PAM) or employ motivational interviewing.
  • Find a partner with coaches what address the whole person – beyond nutrition and exercise. This means examining work and home routines, relationships, emotional and financial wellness.