Health coaching has emerged as a powerful tool for supporting individuals in achieving their health and wellness goals.
In 2023, health coaches will be vital in helping people make sustainable lifestyle changes and improve their overall well-being.
Tens of thousands of individuals are now looking towards this profession, both for its lucrative benefits and its capacity to make a difference. It, however, still remains rather unorganized.
As of now, there are few clear definitions regarding the scope and extent of what health coaching is and how it aligns with the complex web of healthcare services.
Things, however, are changing quickly, and over the course of this decade, we expect healthcare coaches to become akin to family doctors, focusing on the overall health and wellness of patients with a holistic, patient-centric approach.
This is something that has long been amiss in the trillion dollar global healthcare industry.
In this article, we try to clarify the same with a deep-dive into this up-and-coming segment.
Even though we mostly cover tips and best practices for effective health coaching, those of you on the sidelines can consider this an opportunity to get the lowdown on what this profession is all about and what it takes to excel at it while adding enormous value to patients.
Establishing a solid foundation with clients is essential for effective health coaching. Develop a trusting and non-judgmental relationship by actively listening, showing empathy, and fostering open communication.
This foundation will empower clients to share their concerns and goals more freely, ultimately aiding in achieving the desired goals.
Having a free flowing conversation with clients and patients is the cornerstone of healthcare coaching, and the same applies to life coaching. However, building trust and putting people at ease is an acquired trait that often takes years of practice to develop.
That being said, the best way to get started with this is to get out there and start practicing and honing your skills across a number of clients and patients.
As discussed above, there are few professional bodies of knowledge, institutes, or certifications catering to this up-and-coming field, so interested candidates should consider internships and working under existing coaches to build their skills.
Encourage clients to set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goals.
Collaboratively define goals that are realistic and aligned with their values, allowing for better motivation and a sense of accomplishment as progress is made.
Here is a brief primer on what this mnemonic acronym stands for,
The goals you define must be well-defined and focused in nature. This means a simple ‘Improve Health & Wellbeing’ is not going to cut it.
Instead, it has to be something along the lines of ‘reduce weight 10 pounds within 3 months’ or ‘reduce the occurrence of intrusive thoughts by 50% while not on medications’, etc.
In order to truly motivate patients, the goals set must be quantifiable with progress, so that any variances can be tracked and corrective measures can be taken accordingly.
Instead of ‘increase the number of steps taken each day’ it can be ‘Take 200 extra steps each day.’
This can then be measured using a wearable device or smartphone to keep patients accountable.
We’ve all been there, where we aim for the moon, fail to make it even two feet off the ground, and end up feeling disappointed and unmotivated in the end.
As a coach, it is your responsibility to ensure patients consistently remain motivated by steady progress in their health and wellness. This can be done by ensuring the goals set are achievable and increase progressively as milestones are hit.
When it comes to holistic health and wellness, things can quickly go all over the place if care isn’t taken to keep goals restricted to what is most relevant for patients at that particular point in time.
For example, while weight-loss is a great goal, for a patient suffering from hypertension, something more relevant would be diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes to gradually lower blood pressure levels.
Goals only mean something when they have a specific deadline or a timeframe for accomplishing different milestones and objectives.
This is particularly true in the case of healthcare goals, as an open-ended goal can result in patients taking things for granted.
Ideally, a healthcare coaching program should spearhead goals such as ‘reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 20% within the next three months, via dietary changes and exercise.’
Although this mnemonic is largely used in organizations for setting goals and driving action, it is quite useful when planning and working towards personal goals, particularly when it comes to health and fitness goals.
In recent years, a number of apps and solutions have sprung up, allowing users to implement the SMART goals framework for their personal lives.
While these goal setting tools make it easy to set this up, hitting these goals and objectives ultimately comes down to holding users accountable, which is precisely where healthcare coaches stand to add the most value.
Utilize evidence-based behavioral change techniques to guide clients toward sustainable lifestyle modifications.
These techniques may include goal setting, self-monitoring, action planning, problem-solving, and social support. Coaching should include customization and tailoring of techniques and approaches to each individual customer for optimal results.
Setting goals is part of implementing behavioral change, but it goes a lot deeper than that for effective healthcare coaching. There are many theories and frameworks to help professionals in this regard, but implementing them with a client requires practice and experience.
According to the Trans-theoretical model, which was developed in the 1980s, people don’t lack the motivation to make healthy lifestyle choices but only need a guiding hand as they navigate through the 5 stages of behavioral change, namely precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.
Take a holistic approach to health coaching by considering physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Encourage clients to prioritize self-care, stress management, quality sleep, healthy relationships, nutrition, and exercise. Emphasize the importance of balance and self-compassion.
Certain quick-fire approaches to diseases and healthcare might work as intended in certain aspects while draining the life out of others. When it comes to the overall wellbeing of individuals, a holistic approach works best.
This is also precisely where healthcare coaches stand to add substantial value because, unlike specialist doctors, their goals are perfectly aligned with the long-term wellness and happiness of their patients.
The promotion of holistic well-being is often done by providing regular support to patients, in addition to follow-ups and validation while they are in the process of change.
Given how long-lasting and arduous holistic wellness can be, as opposed to traditional treatments, coaching is all the more crucial to keeping patients aligned.
Stay informed about the latest scientific research in nutrition, exercise, mental health, and other relevant fields.
Continuously update your knowledge base to provide evidence-based recommendations and ensure your coaching strategies align with the most recent findings.
It is further essential for healthcare coaches to establish their credibility when dealing with patients, which is only possible when they stay up-to-date with the latest advances in medicine and scientific research while inspiring confidence with the effective use of the same.
Given the pace of advancement in medical science, a coach can best advise on options, alternatives, and courses of action when they are perfectly in-sync with the latest developments.
Thus, it is an absolute requisite that healthcare coaching professionals stay on their toes when it comes to advances and changes in scientific research.
The body of knowledge surrounding healthcare coaching remains slim but is growing quickly.
There are a handful of professional bodies, institutes, and certification programs that have come to the fore in recent years, many of which do provide regular learning resources to their members, along with journals and research of their own.
Coaches can add the most value by helping clients understand complex health information by breaking it down into simple and digestible terms.
Empower them to become active participants in their health journey by educating them about the rationale behind recommendations, potential risks, and benefits. Enhancing health literacy, fosters informed decision-making and long-term adherence.
As of today, the practice of medicine is rather one-sided, with practitioners often making little-to-no effort to make patients understand their own bodies or their various inflictions.
This needs to change, and there are few better avenues for bringing about this change than healthcare coaches, who too can see the intricacies of modern medicine through the lens of a non-doctor.
Medical doctors, nurses, and other professionals are often unable to provide patients with sufficient face-time.
This results in patients often having a limited understanding of or misunderstanding of their own bodies, their afflictions, and the various treatments they are currently going through.
All of this can be changed for the better, by embracing the role of healthcare coaches.
As much as 70% of a coach’s job involves motivating their clients and compelling action, but this is easier said than done and is also the reason why a vast majority of coaching engagements end in failure.
Assisting clients in identifying their intrinsic motivators and developing resilience in the face of setbacks is a specialized task that requires years of experience, in addition to deep insights into human psychology.
Coaches can start off by encouraging self-reflection and self-discovery to uncover deeper motivations for sustainable behavioral changes. In addition to this, they can foster a growth mindset and guide clients to view challenges as opportunities for growth.
For the vast majority of people, adhering to a strict diet and making drastic lifestyle changes overnight is akin to squeezing water from a stone. As a result, coaches have to adopt an incremental approach, which initially begins with building motivation and resilience.
Leverage technology and digital tools to enhance health coaching in 2023.
Online platforms, mobile apps, wearable devices, and telehealth services can facilitate remote monitoring, data tracking, and communication. Consider integrating these tools into your coaching practice to improve accessibility and engagement.
Even if you are far from tech savvy to find and set these things up by yourself, consider working with a care management software vendor who can provide an end-to-end tech solution in order to add plenty of value for your practice and patients.
There are quite a few valuable insights that can be unlocked with the right use of data from wearables, mobile apps, and more.
It can, however, be just as misleading for users and practitioners who aren’t well versed in them, and thus, while it is important to embrace technology, keep in mind not to ignore the human element altogether.
With telehealth and virtual coaching quietly becoming ubiquitous and the likes of AI, IoT, and smart devices joining the fray, the future of healthcare coaching is exciting.
Not only does it make coaching more effective, but it also makes it more accessible for people across social and economic classes.
Healthcare coaches would do well to recognize the value of collaboration with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care to patients.
Consider establishing partnerships with registered dietitians, therapists, physicians, and other specialists to address the diverse needs of patients and foster interdisciplinary communication to ensure holistic support.
Coaches, especially healthcare coaches, cannot work in silos, as no one individual can grasp the vast universe of medical knowledge that has come into existence over the past century.
While most coaches are aware of this, it is oftentimes their own egos that prevent them from doing what is best for client outcomes.
For a comprehensive approach to coaching, and to best guide patients suffering from complex problems, collaborating with a multidisciplinary team is absolutely crucial, and this holds true no matter how experienced or knowledgeable a coach considers themselves to be.
Coaches should consider committing to ongoing professional development to refine their skills and stay at the forefront of healthcare practices.
Attend conferences, workshops, and webinars and engage in peer-to-peer learning.
Seek supervision or mentorship to receive feedback on your coaching techniques and enhance your effectiveness; these are all things that can ensure you are consistently at the bleeding edge of your respective profession.
As is the case with most professionals, it is recommended that healthcare coaches don’t have their schedules filled to the brim with clients and patients.
They should reserve certain hours of their day, particularly for studying, reviewing, and keeping up with trends.
As a professional healthcare coach, make sure to subscribe to leading industry journals, follow respected practitioners on social media, and keep tabs on the latest happenings in the industry to provide the best possible service to your clients.
As a health coach, it is crucial to prioritize your self-care and establish clear professional boundaries. Take care of your physical and mental well-being to ensure you can best support your clients.
Set realistic expectations for your availability and establish boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
By overextending yourself, you aren’t doing any favors to anyone, as you can serve clients best when you are in peak mental and physical condition yourself.
Some would go so far as to call it even unethical if you are doing anything but giving your best for each patient and client that seeks your counsel.
In addition to this, it is critical for practitioners to establish and maintain professional boundaries across all of their dealings with clients.
This means clearly understanding their role as a healthcare coach and not treading on the turf of therapists and healthcare providers.
We realize that the lines can get blurred very easily in this regard, after all, people themselves expect a healthcare coach to disseminate medical knowledge and provide therapeutic advice, which they are usually not qualified to do.
As a professional, however, it is your responsibility to clarify your role, as and when necessary.
Effective health coaching in 2023 requires interpersonal skills, evidence-based strategies, and a holistic approach to well-being. With the right systems, planning, and adoption of best practices, a healthcare coach can add substantial value to the health and long-term wellbeing of patients.
Coaching has always been one aspect of healthcare that has remained neglected for years. Fortunately, hospitals and care providers are finally realizing its importance, and we should see the rise of healthcare coaches in most hospitals and other facilities over the coming years.
The field still remains in its infancy but is growing rather quickly, with plenty of new strategies, tips, and best practices coming to the fore with each passing week.
In this article, we’ve covered the most essential bases for healthcare coaches to get started and add value to patients, but as is the case with most evolving fields, make sure to keep an eye on this page for regular updates.