Health coaching is a term that we’re hearing more often these days, but few people fully understand what it entails—or how it can help you. Often offered by hospitals, large employers and insurance companies, health coaching involves regular contact (in-person, online or on the phone) with a health professional who gives personalized medical advice. You can work with the same coach for the duration of the program (which can last from days to months). Health coaching is especially helpful for people with chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and various types of cancer, but it can be used for disease prevention as well.
A friend of mine who was recently diagnosed with diabetes used a health-coaching program offered by her local hospital. The program, which was covered by her health insurance, included unlimited telephone coaching by a nurse specializing in diabetes care as well as classes on such topics as nutrition and the importance of taking medication properly. My friend’s blood sugar levels have remained stable, and she has found it easy to maintain her new diet. But not all health coaching is this effective. There are a lot of so-called “health coaches” out there who have virtually no training or credentials. What you need to know…
What health coaching is—and isn’t. The most effective health-coaching programs assign a nurse, social worker or, in some cases, a physician who works directly with you to serve as an expert consultant in managing your care and overall health. The best coaches act as health partners and help recommend medical approaches that are appropriate for you based on your condition, age and health status.
How to find a good health coach. I advise first checking with your health insurer. Most health insurance companies offer health-coaching programs to their members either directly or through their employers as a benefit of coverage. If your insurer or employer doesn’t offer health coaching, check with your local hospital or a major advocacy group that focuses on your condition (such as the American Heart Association if you have heart disease). Most of these health-coaching programs will be covered by your insurer or Medicare if your doctor orders it.
Traps to watch out for. Because there are no national accrediting standards for health coaching, anyone can claim to be a health coach. So be careful! If insurance does not cover your health coaching, it will likely cost $50 to $150 per hour (in some cases, this may be covered by a flexible-spending account, but check first). Before signing on to work with a health coach, ask about the person’s credentials. If he/she claims to be a nurse, for example, ask which state granted the person’s license and check with that state’s nurse-licensing board to verify. In addition, ask for at least five references whom you can contact directly—online testimonials are suspect. Health coaching can be very helpful if your coach is well-qualified!
Source: Charles B. Inlander, a consumer advocate and health-care consultant based in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania. He was the founding president of the nonprofit People’s Medical Society, a consumer advocacy organization credited with key improvements in the quality of US health care in the 1980s and 1990s, and is the author of 20 books, including Take This Book to the Hospital With You: A Consumer Guide to Surviving Your Hospital Stay (St. Martin’s).