It’s All About Coaching: 5 Essential Elements of an Evidence-based Health Coaching Program

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By Elizabeth Thompson

“It’s all about coaching,” a client said to me recently. They had 7,000 members enrolled in health coaching and were looking to enroll more. For them, the results were adding up:  engaged, activated employees; wellness success stories; downward trending health costs; more productive employees; and a positive wellness program experience overall.

So, how does health coaching help give wellness programs such a big leg up when it comes to getting results?

Coaching provides the personal, one-on-one guidance, inspiration and motivation that can help convert non participants to active, empowered participants who, over time, can make real life changes. I’ve seen it happen time and again. Over the last 14 years working with one of the oldest, continuously-running health coaching companies in the country, we’ve conducted more than 2 million health coaching sessions, touching more than 210,000 lives. We’ve devoted more time, money and research to coaching than any other wellness company or health insurer, evolving the science and psychology of coaching and engagement to an evidence-based discipline.

To that end, we’ve developed five essential elements of an evidence-based health coaching program. Let’s review them.

  1. Covers a broad health continuum.

Too many wellness programs focus only on the prevention of future illness, when, in reality, the highest costs – current chronic conditions — are already draining the bottom line. A good health coaching program should include interventions that:

  1. Manage the immediate high risk members who have existing conditions and co-morbidities at all acuity levels, such as hypertension or chronic musculoskeletal pain.
  2. Reduce lifestyle health risk factors propelling healthier members towards ill health, such as tobacco use or a lack of physical activity.
  1. Targets members based on individual demographics.

Coaching that offers its services in various modalities, from live telephone calls to video or chat, to email and text messaging can reach more members. Implementing touch points that appeal across all generations, from millennials to boomers, is essential to participation.

  1. “Meet the members where they are”.

One member may be just beginning to consider making lifestyle changes, while another may have tried and failed in the past, and needs a very different type of support. One member may want to prevent disease, while another needs to better manage an existing one. Your coaching program should incorporate coaches from all backgrounds, such as lifestyle or nurse coaches, trained to help each member find his or her own path.

  1. Must be evidence-based.

Coaches are just “friends” unless they have the proven tools and skills that produce positive outcomes.  A few of the most effective tools used in evidence-based coaching  include:

  1. Activation, a process to assess and strengthen an individual’s knowledge, skills and confidence for managing his or her own health and health care.
  2. Motivational Interviewing, which can help people resolve the ambivalence that often holds them back from change. It helps people tap into their own reasons for change and marshal their strengths to make change happen.
  3. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of strengths and virtues that enable individuals to thrive instead of just survive.
  1. Coaches Must Receive Continuous Training

Coaches are the super-glue that connects the pieces for your members and helps them see the big picture, then helps keep the pieces in place. That’s why professional coaching programs provide many hours of on-the-job training. A great coaching program also has procedures in place to recognize reds flags that can lead to a member crisis. If your coaching program doesn’t offer that safety net, you’re missing an important element of member safety.

Dare I quote our client again who said to us, “It’s all about coaching”?  From my perspective, there is great truth in that statement. Employers must realize they cannot make employees live healthier lives with incentives or penalties alone.  Employees must buy into wellness. To do that they must first buy into the idea that they can change, they want to change, they are empowered to change, and they have an advocate in their corner who can cheer them on when they achieve, and inspire them when they fail. A superior coaching program provides all that, with the science to back it up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth R. Thompson, MPH, RD, is vice president, Coaching Programs, at Healthyroads. Elizabeth oversees condition coaching and lifestyle coaching for weight management, tobacco cessation, and stress management.  Over the last 15 years working with one of the oldest, continuously-running health coaching companies in the country, Elizabeth’s team has conducted more than 2 million health coaching sessions, touching more than 210,000 lives. Since its initial pilot coaching program in 2001 with a major health insurer, Healthyroads has devoted more time, money and research to coaching than any other wellness company or health insurer, evolving the science and psychology of coaching and engagement to an evidence-based discipline.