Choosing the right health coaching program for your employees

It’s a fact that 75 percent of employer health care costs are the result of chronic diseases that have unhealthy behaviors as their root cause, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The key to bringing down those health care costs? Change the behaviors that lead to the chronic diseases,” says Amanda Budzowski, MS, MPH, CHES, senior manager of Clinical Training & Development at UPMC WorkPartners and UPMC Health Plan.

“The question is, how? How to get employees to lose weight, eat better, get more active or stop smoking?” she says. “How to help them better manage their diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease?”

And the answer is: With help from a health coach.

“It turns out that many health insurance companies are now offering health coaching free to their members. That’s great news for employers,” Budzowski says.

Smart Business spoke with Budzowski about how to set up a coaching program to help change the employee behaviors that lead to chronic diseases.

What’s important to include in a successful health coaching program?

With health coaching, employees and family members can work one-on-one, usually by phone or email, with a trained expert in behavior change. Research confirms that health coaching works.

When assessing a health plan’s health coaching services, look for:

  • Lifestyle expertise: The health coaching team should be able to help your employees with lifestyle challenges, such as losing weight, eating healthier, quitting smoking, increasing activity and lowering stress.
  • Health condition expertise: Health coaches should also have expertise in managing conditions such as diabetes, asthma, low back pain, depression and heart disease.
  • Comprehensive staffing: To ensure your employees are in good hands, the health coaching team should have licensed nurses, counselors, social workers, registered dietitians and exercise physiologists — preferably with medical director oversight.
  • Accessibility: Some health insurance companies can actually supply health coaches to your job site. Short of that, look for health coaches to be available full-time on weekdays via phone, email or live chat, with accessibility for teletype devices for the deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired.

What else should employers keep in mind?

Effective health coaching doesn’t happen by accident. It should follow a process much like this:

1) Health coach meets with client to define their personal wellness vision.

2) Health coach and client explore strengths and past successes as well as anticipated challenges and barriers.

3) Health coach and client determine health goals.

4) Health coach and client co-create solutions and a customized plan to get there.

5) Health coach checks in frequently to help client stay motivated and accountable.

6) Health coach celebrates with client when goal is accomplished.

Health coaching is a highly effective tool for changing the behaviors that lead to the chronic diseases that significantly increase employer health care costs. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right health coaching program for your employees.

Are there any secrets to getting employees to use a health coach?

There is a new strategy out there that is having a big impact on health coach usage, and that’s when a person’s doctor recommends health coaching. It’s one thing if a person self-directs to a health coach or if a health insurance company recommends the health coach, but it’s a different deal altogether if the recommendation comes from the doctor.

People believe their doctors and doctors get to know their patients over time. So there’s a relationship of trust that forms. Therefore, when a doctor says to a patient that it would helpful if he or she got some guidance and motivation from a health coach, that recommendation goes a long way. The patient is more likely to take action and sign on.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan