How a health coach can help manage wellness issues

The concept of health coaching is evolving and becoming more and more a part of mainstream health care. While health coaching once may have been viewed as something designed to help individuals address specific health risk behaviors — quitting smoking or losing weight, for example — it is now seen as an effective method to manage wellness concerns across the full spectrum of health care, from prevention to managing chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma.

Not only will your employees benefit from improved health, but employers can benefit from health coaching, as well, says Sally Stephens, president of Spectrum Health Systems.

“Studies show that individual coaching may be the key to implementing successful worksite health promotion programs,” Stephens says, which can help improve the health of your employees, reduce absenteeism and boost productivity.

Smart Business spoke with Stephens about the role health coaching plays in health risk management, and how your company can find its own health coach.

What is health coaching, and why should companies include it in their health risk management programs?

It is much easier to prevent most diseases than to cure them. Today, more and more employers are discovering that if they can help their employees better manage their own health, they can save on future medical expenses.

Health coaching is becoming recognized as a new way to help individuals manage their lifestyles, as well as manage any chronic conditions they may have. In fact, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that ‘individual coaching may be the critical component for effective worksite health promotion programs.’

What do health coaches do?

As with traditional coaching, health coaches utilize goal-setting, identification of obstacles and use of personal support systems. Health coaches work with participants, evaluate their personal health risks and help them develop a personalized health plan, with direct involvement in reaching their goals.

Dedicated health coaches also develop a relationship of trust with the individual employee to help them work through issues that are often very personal.

How does working with a health coach benefit employees?

Most people desire optimal health but may have multiple barriers for effectively managing their chronic conditions or maintaining healthy behaviors. These barriers can include finances, family, work and issues with children. In the coach/participant relationship, the reason for health behavior change comes from the participant, which increases the likelihood that any ambivalence toward making a change will be replaced with a readiness for change.

The coaching process provides motivation, encouragement and health education in an atmosphere where full attention is given to the participant and where the way to self-discovery is paved.