What Is the Role of Health Coaches in Public Health?

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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has created a dire situation for our public health, but it has also done its part to shine a light on something that I’ve been saying for a long while: chronic disease is spreading, and we need a new model of healthcare to stop it. Thankfully, health coaches are uniquely qualified to support that purpose, work as part of a collaborative Functional healthcare team, and improve public health as a whole. Here’s how.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives, many are worried (with good reason) about the impact its spread will have on our already overwhelmed healthcare system. This is definitely a deep and widespread crisis that’s much more challenging than anything we’ve faced before. However, I believe that we have an opportunity to rise to this challenge, adapt to the changes it requires of us, and use it as an opportunity to improve upon the status quo. That includes changing mainstream healthcare to embrace a preventive approach.

Health coaches can play an important role in changing the course of healthcare. They are uniquely qualified to support clients as they adopt treatment plans and protocols from practitioners, nutritionists, personal trainers, and other allied health providers. Their expertise in health, human psychology, and behavior change gives them the toolkit needed to support someone through the process of habit change. Health coaches have the power to change peoples’ lives—and, in turn, they can change the course of public health.

Read on for more on the important role that health coaches play in public health and find out why we need their help now more than ever. 

The Potential Link between COVID-19 and Chronic Disease

We are continually learning more about COVID-19 and its effects, but it appears that the presence of chronic disease is a risk factor for serious illness related to an infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified several chronic conditions and illnesses that appear to confer a higher risk of serious complications, such as: (1)

  • Heart disease
  • Severe obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Renal failure
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Asthma
  • A compromised immune system, including as a result of cancer treatment

We don’t yet know the full impact that chronic illness will have on the seriousness of COVID-19, but we do know that six in 10 American adults have a chronic disease, and four in 10 have two or more. (2) Furthermore, we know that:

  • Almost 43 percent of American adults are obese. One 2019 report predicts that number will increase to one in two by 2030, while one in four people will be “severely obese.” (3, 4)
  • More than 30 million American adults have been diagnosed with heart disease. (5)
  • More than 30 million Americans have diabetes—and one in four don’t even know they have the condition. (6)
  • More than 84 million American adults have prediabetes. Almost all of them—90 percent—aren’t aware that they have it, and are thus at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (7)

The need for preventive medicine on a societal level has never been more clear to me. We need a model that prevents chronic illness from developing and, for those people who are already suffering from a condition, we need a way to reverse it. That’s what health coaching and Functional Medicine are all about.

As more information comes out about the COVID-19 epidemic, one thing is clear: we need mainstream acceptance of preventive healthcare, now more than ever. Check out this article to find out what role health coaches play in public health. #covid19 #coronavirus #changeagent

How Health Coaches Improve Public Health

Health coaches help people who are trying to change their lifestyles. They’re experts in health, human psychology, motivation, and behavior change—meaning they understand why we do the things we do and what really spurs us to develop new habits. They use that knowledge and expertise to empower their clients to discover the reasons they want to change. They provide support and accountability, they help people spot the things that are making habit change more difficult, and they use their background in health to help their clients move through that process.

That skill set and approach makes health coaches essential in the fight against chronic disease. Imagine, for a moment, that you are one of those 84 million Americans with prediabetes. If you visited a conventional doctor for help, it’s likely that you’d walk away from your appointment with advice to eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and check in at your next visit—however far out that may be on the calendar. You wouldn’t receive any support between now and then; instead, you would have to figure out how to change your diet and adopt a new fitness routine alone. How successful do you think you would be in making those changes?

Now, imagine that you went from your doctor’s appointment into a session with a health coach. There, your coach would work with you to uncover the reason why you want to change your diet and lifestyle. (Perhaps you watched a grandparent suffer from type 2 diabetes and you don’t want to experience the same thing, or maybe you miss the feeling of being able to take part in active hobbies you once loved.) From there, your health coach would support you as you figure out what your goals are and as you determine the steps you want to take. Your health coach would be available to you via regular appointments to check in on your progress, help you make adjustments as needed, and celebrate your wins as they come. Now, with that level of support, how successful do you think you would be in following your doctor’s orders?

That’s the value of health coaching. On a small scale, health coaches help each one of their clients as they make important changes to improve their health and their lives. Imagine the difference they could make to public health if each and every person had access to a health coach as needed.

The Value of Collaborative, Patient-Centered Healthcare

Health coaches work as part of a collaborative healthcare team that includes practitioners, nutritionists, personal trainers, and other allied health providers. When they operate under the umbrella of Functional Medicine—a patient-centered, root-cause-based approach to preventing and reversing chronic disease—they become truly effective agents of long-lasting habit change.

Health coaching has been shown to be effective at fighting chronic disease. It has a positive impact for people with conditions like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. (8) Health coaches can improve their clients’ overall quality of life and may be the key to helping them make long-term changes that maintain their health. (9, 10)

That effectiveness translates to benefits for conventional medicine, too. While the conventional model isn’t set up to deal with chronic disease prevention, conventional practitioners excel at treating acute illness and injury. Especially at a time like this when the number of patients in need of acute treatment is growing exponentially, it’s crucial that healthcare workers in hospitals, emergency rooms, and clinics have the resources they need to treat people. Functional Medicine practitioners and health coaches play an important role in alleviating the extra stress that chronic disease puts on our healthcare system.

Three Benefits of Working as a Health Coach

As a career, health coaching is highly adaptable. That’s great news for people who are already working in the industry and for those who are considering it as their next career step. Even in a crisis, health coaches can do their work—and do it well. 

1. Health Coaching Careers Are Highly Flexible

Few careers are as flexible and customizable as health coaching. Trained coaches have several different job opportunities available to them, like:

  • Full-time work with a private clinic, primary care group, or large institutional clinic
  • Full-time employment as a part of a corporate wellness program
  • Building a private health coaching practice
  • Contracting with clinics and practitioners to help their patients achieve results
  • Working with public entities like municipal departments to improve the health of employees
  • Creating a hybrid career made up of several different options

Health coaches bring much-needed benefits to any company. That means that the people working in this field have choices when it comes to building a career that suits them. It also means that, in times of uncertainty, they can adapt their work quickly to fit in with the new normal—whatever that may be. That ensures that they’re still able to do their important work and can continue to support themselves and their families, even in the midst of a public health crisis.

2. Health Coaches Are Well-Suited to Working Remotely

Health coaching sessions can easily be conducted via phone or teleconference. As long as the coach can connect and communicate with each client (even virtually), they can build those strong, trusting, supportive relationships that are at the heart of successful coaching.

The ability to work remotely is a clear benefit right now, but virtual health coaching carries great advantages even outside times of crisis, like:

  • The ability to expand a coaching practice beyond an immediate geographic area
  • More convenience for clients’ schedules (they may not be able to make the drive for an in-person visit, but they can likely find 30 minutes for a phone call)
  • More flexibility for coaches to travel without disrupting their work

Health coaches can conduct one-on-one sessions and even group classes virtually, and, when we reach the point that restrictions on in-person gatherings are lifted, they can choose to remain virtual or add face-to-face sessions to their offerings. The structure of their practice depends entirely on the coach’s professional preferences, goals, and needs.

3. There’s a Clear Public Need for More Health Coaches

We need health coaches now more than ever—and that dire need isn’t going anywhere. As long as the number of people with a chronic illness continues to skyrocket, we will need effective coaches working hard to improve public health.

Even prior to the appearance of COVID-19, I’ve watched this trend develop. Practitioners are beginning to hire health coaches to work in their clinics, and major organizations like the Cleveland Clinic, the CDC, and the Mayo Clinic are either adding coaches to their staff or publicly discussing the benefits coaches bring to the table. Health coaches are important members of our team at the California Center for Functional Medicine (CCFM), our private clinic that offers a membership-based, virtual health transformation program.

Public knowledge and acceptance of health coaching is already growing, and I believe that trend will continue. 

Are you thinking of starting a career in health coaching? In the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program, we don’t just teach you how to master the art of health coaching; we also teach you how to work as a coach. That means learning how to:

  • Network and collaborate with peers
  • Structure a private practice
  • Choose a coaching niche
  • And more

That, coupled with a robust education in core Functional and ancestral health principles, means that you graduate with the knowledge and skills you need to work as a vital member of a collaborative care team—one that’s focused on preventing and reversing chronic disease and improving public health. Find out more about building a career in health coaching with the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program.

How You Can Help Change Public Health for the Better

You can help change the way healthcare works, and you’ve got a couple of ways to do so:

We can all play a part in changing the course of public health and stopping the chronic disease epidemic in its tracks, but it’s not a change that will happen on its own. It will take all of us to put in the sustained effort needed to change our healthcare model to one that’s focused on prevention and healing, not symptom management. Positive outcomes can come out of negative situations, and our current crisis can give us the momentum we need to change the status quo. We just have to rise to the challenge—and I believe we’re up for it.