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Why Human Health Coaches Will Never Be Replaced by Robots

by: Jenn Maples
Published: November 7, 2018
Updated: June 23, 2022

Technology is truly amazing. I mean, thanks to advancements in technology, we’ve seen a surge in health-focused apps, wearable devices, and ads in our Facebook feeds for things we didn’t even know we needed (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything).

Sometimes it feels like technology is going to take over the world. But will it take over our jobs as health coaches?

In today’s post we’ll be talking about the future of health coaching, and why robots and artificial intelligence aren’t a substitute for the real thing.

Where Our Nation’s Health Is Headed

In the next 10-15 years, nearly 50% of people in the United States will be living with chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. Right now, an estimated 160 million Americans are either overweight or obese. Processed foods are dominating our grocery store purchases. Tons of health and fitness misinformation is being pushed to the masses. And a staggering amount of people are barely meeting the requirements for daily physical activity.

How Technology Can Help

Clearly, there’s a demand for chronic disease care, and analytics, data, and AI collected from apps and wearables can give people personalized insights that drive changes in the way we eat, move, and live our lives. Say someone is managing diabetes. Resources that use artificial intelligence could suggest the best times of day to add or reduce exercise based on glycemic control—and send these insights to the person’s physician. There are wearables that remind you to stand up regularly, tools that track your body metrics, and even apps positioned as personal weight loss coaches.

It’s all based on information the app or product or tracker is learning from our behaviors, which is great, assuming we’re actually following the recommendations it gives us. But in the end, it’s no substitute for working with a human health coach.

Here’s why.

Humans Make the Difference

If you’re worried about a robot-takeover, don’t be. Peer-to-peer support is one of the most powerful forces in human psychology. And as living, breathing, non-pre-programmed humans, we have so many qualities that make us more qualified to coach our clients.

  • We’re empathetic. Having genuine empathy and taking our clients’ emotions into consideration is something a robot can’t do. As humans, we can acknowledge and respond individually to our clients’ frustrations, excitement, and fear as we work with them, which is especially important when we’re helping them navigate major life changes like losing weight, improving fitness, and managing chronic diseases.
  • We’re trustworthy. For most people, trust is something that’s earned. As health coaches, we work to build trustworthy relationships with our clients so they feel like they can open up to us and believe in what we have to say. Trust isn’t just given out like free swag at a 10k, and it’s certainly not something clients will get from working with an AI-driven device.
  • We’ve been there. In a blog post about conquering your fears about being a health coach, I wrote that your personal story is a huge factor in clients wanting to work with you. The fact that you are relatable and have had the same or similar struggles and overcome them will continue to build trust and likeability with your clients. While a robot is designed to learn what you need through artificial intelligence, it’s still a machine without emotions, challenges, or a story.
  • We’re good listeners. Sure, technology is a superstar at recording and collecting data. But it obviously can’t listen the same way we can. A big part of our jobs as health coaches is to listen—and let our clients do the talking. Sometimes life is messy, and there’s isn’t a clear cut or pre-programmed answer. As health coaches, we can provide the human interaction and attention our clients need to get through difficult times.
  • We’re flexible. Robots can do a lot of the routine work that we do as health coaches, like collect data on weight, blood pressure, or the number of miles you’ve logged. But put an unforeseen obstacle in front of them, and they might just short circuit. Ever try asking Siri a personal question and received a satisfactory response? In some ways, AI still has a long way to go. With us, it’s part of our human nature to be flexible, adaptable, and be able to make on-the fly-adjustments to support our clients’ physical and mental capabilities throughout their journey.
  • We’re safety-conscious. As humans, we look at the whole picture, taking into account all of the individual things that make our clients human, including possible injuries, pain thresholds, and fluctuating nutritional needs. Even with the most sophisticated artificial intelligence, bots aren’t necessarily built to be aware of these nuances—or the possible consequences that come with them.

 It’s a Best of Both Worlds Story

With nearly 50% of our population battling chronic diseases, the best solution is one where health coaches and technology work together—combining our unique human characteristics with the 24/7 functionality of apps, trackers, and wearables. As coaches, we can use technology and AI to assist us with things like recording sessions when we’re with clients or tracking data when we’re apart. Plus, clients can use them to monitor their own progress in between sessions.

Take, for example, Ascend by Loseit. This popular fitness app gives you access to all of your clients’ data, weight loss progress, food logs, and physical activity so you know how well they’re staying on track. Newcomer Nutrition House Software is another tool that’s all about providing high-tech with a personal touch. Even virtual health coach company Noom is getting in on the action. The app uses artificial intelligence to sort through clients’ food and exercise logs, and recommends personalized diets and workouts. Then the data goes directly to their health coach’s dashboard so they can provide customized feedback (as well as empathy, relatability, and adaptability) to keep clients moving in the right direction.

To Sum It Up…

There’s so much that robots and artificial intelligence can do, but they can’t replace the qualities we have ingrained in us as humans. They also require a significant amount of human input, not being nearly as autonomous as science fiction would have us believe. Moving forward, we’ll likely be seeing a lot more situations where health coaches and technology are working in tandem, using our data, our phones, and our unique ability to connect with one another to combat chronic diseases, obesity, and a host of other health issues.

Now tell us what you think! Leave a comment below to start or join the discussion...

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