Doctor holding application form while consulting patient

The numbers are staggering…. According to the CDC, 7 out of 10 deaths are attributable to chronic disease. Those with chronic conditions account for 76% of physician visits, (PDF) and their care by the latest estimate comprises 86% of U.S. health care costs. There is growing and dramatic concern among health care providers, administrators and public health experts over the time required for the care of chronic conditions, particularly with the corresponding pressure to increase clinical time for disease prevention. Analysis reveals that current resources even now don’t allow for suggested treatment protocols, and chronic disease is only expected to increase during the coming years. In keeping with these constraints, patient education initiatives in the medical community emphasize “self-management” of medical conditions. However, statistics demonstrate that patients frequently do not comply with even simple medication regimens, let alone critical but more complex lifestyle change recommendations offered by their physicians. Supporting the role of health coaches in patient care offers a uniquely effective answer to these intersecting challenges.

Health coaches dramatically increase adherence to medical and lifestyle recommendations.

One review indicates that overall some 40% of patients do not adhere to doctors’ prescription recommendations, but another survey shows that number even higher with as many as 75% of patients not consistently following prescription indications. (PDF) In addition, 35% neglected to fully follow through on suggested physical therapy directives. When it came to physician recommended changes in lifestyle habits, non-adherence hit 70%.

At the root, some experts suggest, are often simple misunderstandings of their doctors orders. Even in the best scenarios, they say, patients often need help “systematizing” these new behaviors. Health coaches, in partnership with physicians, can help bridge this gap in ongoing communication and patient education.

Health coaches encourage patient ownership of health care and personal wellness.

Because health coaches target personal motivation and integrate health goals with life satisfaction, they’re in a unique position to encourage clients to take ownership of their well-being. They model key skills related to lifestyle change and personal growth, empowering their clients with a sense of individual mastery and and personal accountability.

For some patients, a feeling of disempowerment can substantially impair their ability to implement lifestyle changes and to adhere to medical directives. Research regarding the effectiveness of health coaching for patient outcomes is clearly affirming. Yet, one review showed that even life coaches—professionals often without a health sciences background but with a focus on self-empowerment and self-efficacy—overall made a promising difference in outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged patients. The authors note that coaches who emphasize empowerment potentially offer patients an alternative angle of communication about their condition and the impact of their self-care on treatment and prognosis.

Health coaches help patients integrate lifestyle efforts with treatment proposals and can help their clients optimize physician contacts.

Particularly for patients with multiple medical concerns or risk factors, health coaches can explain the overlap of recommendations among physicians and apply lifestyle changes to multiple areas of health concern. Additionally, coaches advise patients to maintain their current treatment schedules and integrate regular medical feedback into behavioral plans for positive change.

When it’s time for follow-up visits with their health care providers, patients will not only be better able to communicate their current efforts but also can discuss potential questions with a coach in preparation for meeting with their physicians. better utilize your services. Research demonstrates that patients who receive preparatory assistance prior to medical appointments feel they receive more information and report more satisfaction with the session. Patients can sign waivers to release medical records and physician recommendations to their coaches to ensure consistency of care and added support for evolving treatment recommendations.

Finally, health coaches positively impact patient outcomes.

Multiple reviews support health coaching’s effectiveness for improving patients’ physiological, psychological and behavioral well-being. (1, 2, 3) Additionally, studies demonstrate coaching’s impact in the successful treatment and even reversal of chronic conditions. In one study of pre-diabetics, nearly half of participants returned to normal blood glucose readings following a 14-week, personalized coaching intervention. Research also suggests that coaching support helps people more successfully lose weight as well as enhance cardiovascular health, increase exercise, improve diet, lower stress and improve lipid markers.

More than ever, medicine is embracing the benefits of a team model for treatment and prevention. Health coaches have a uniquely impactful role to play in ongoing care that can enhance patient experience and improve general outcomes.

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