Why Use a Health Coach?

Health, wellness, and lifestyle coaching are relatively new approaches to managing one’s health that have been growing in popularity over the recent years.  This idea of using a “coach” to assist with health and wellness choices may seem a little radical to some and certainly a nontraditional approach to many.

In my opinion, coaching is probably gaining popularity due to changes in our healthcare system as a whole.  As access to traditional healthcare becomes more expensive and time consuming, finding alternative ways to improve health and quality of life makes sense.

Doctors today are pushed to see more and more patients each day, leaving them with less and less time to spend with each patient.  Pharmacies are swamped with more and more prescriptions to fill and less and less staff to fill them, leaving the pharmacist less accessible for questions and counseling.  Considering these facts, the following scenario and others like it are happening way too often.

–A middle-aged man waits for a month to get an appointment with his physician for a checkup and to review previously drawn blood work.  Once in the examination room, the man gets only about 10 minutes of face time with his doctor.  The doctor does an exam and reviews the results of his labs.  He quickly notes the concerning numbers and makes his diagnosis.  He lets the patient know that his labs indicate a concern of pre-diabetes and hypercholesterolemia. Also, his blood pressure was elevated when checked at the beginning of the appointment. The man receives his three new diagnoses.

  1. High cholesterol – will need medication
  2. Hypertension – will need medication
  3. Prediabetes – will need medication

The doctor informs him that prescriptions will be electronically sent to his pharmacy and that he will need to make lifestyle changes to improve his current health.

The man leaves the doctor’s office and heads to the pharmacy to gather his new medication.  When they are ready, he is asked if he has any questions for the pharmacist.  What kind of questions?  How would he even know what to ask?  If the pharmacist is readily available, they can provide basic instructions and information on side effects but he is very overwhelmed and not really able to retain much of the information in his stressed state. He will return home with a bag of new medications and not much else.–

Obviously this is a fictitious scenario, but situations like this happen every day and in many areas of healthcare.  Unfortunately, when this happens the likelihood of patient compliance and adherence to medications and other therapies can be quite low.  Patients may decide to not take medications at all or take them incorrectly. Healthcare workers have a tendency to tell patients what to do because they are anxious for their health to improve, but studies show that people are more likely to succeed at their goals if they are the ones making the choices about how to do so. 

Here is where a health coach steps in.  A certified health coach, especially one with a trained medical background, is able to guide a patient through the process of learning about a health condition and educate and answer questions about new medications and therapies. A health coach takes it even further by including the patient in every step of their health journey.  A health coach never tells you what to do, they ask you what you think would work for you and assists you in making those processes reality. All of these strategies are crucial to patient outcomes and quality of life improvements.

Non-adherence is a term used in healthcare and is defined by the following:

  • Not filling a prescription
  • Taking a lower dose of the medication prescribed
  • Taking “drug holidays” such as skipping doses on the weekends or other times
  • Completely stopping 1 or more medications

Any or all of these, will result in treatment failure and decreased quality of life.

A study was done called the PHARM-CHF trial.  I will keep the boring details to a minimum but this study is key to show the importance of interventions with patients.

237 chronic heart failure patients were randomly separated to receive either “usual care” or pharmacist intervention.  These patients were followed for a median of 2 years.

The pharmacist intervention consisted of the following elements:

  1. An initial medication review
  2. A med plan was created
  3. The pharmacist looked for interactions and duplications
  4. They spoke with the physician to make and changes as needed
  5. A pharmacist met with each patient every 6-8 days to discuss adherence, symptoms and assess blood pressure and pulse.
  6. The pharmacist provided a pillbox that was appropriate for each patient.

The results of the study showed the patients in the pharmacist group were 3X more adherent to their medications and therapies.

After 1 year, the pharmacist group indication an increased quality of life.

After 2 years, the pharmacist group indicated a significantly higher quality of life.

I find these results to be quite exciting because ultimately the point of healthcare should be to improve quality of life – make your life better. This study shows that when patients have a partner, in this case a pharmacist, they will have better success.

In my case, I’m drawn to this study and others like it because I am a pharmacist and a health coach and its uplifting so see the good that my professions can do!

In reality, a health coach does more than just review medications.  They are trained to see the whole individual and to listen to any and all concerns regarding any part of their health and wellness journey.  A health coach understands that health goes well beyond lab values and blood pressure readings. True health means physical, mental, spiritual, and social balance and peace.  It means reaching for your best quality of life every day.  

So, if I haven’t convinced you yet, I have another study to share.  This one was done by the Mayo Clinic.  Employees of the Mayo Clinic have access to a health and wellness center where they are able to take advantage of these services as part of their benefits.  A study was conducted through this wellness center to determine any potential psychosocial benefits to wellness coaching. They were  specifically looking to see if quality of life improvements were achieved. 

They defined quality of life to include physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual functions.

100 Mayo employees were randomly selected to complete a 12 week one-on-one wellness coaching program.

They met with their individual coach each week for approximately 1 hour.

At the end of 12 weeks, all of the participants indicated significant quality of life improvement. I feel this is especially interesting because only one of the participants indicated anything of real concern in their life at the beginning of the program.  These individuals saw improvements in their life that they didn’t even know they needed!  If interested, you can read the whole study at https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/s0025-6196(14)00438-8/abstract

At this point, I will return to the original question posed in the title of the post “why use a health coach”.  My hope is that after reading this article you are instead asking, “Why would I not use a health coach”!

If you have questions for me regarding this post or are interested in learning how I can help you in your health journey, please reach out at  https://thehappypharmacist.com/contact. And, if you’d like to book an appointment with me, click here.

2 thoughts on “Why Use a Health Coach?”

  • My dad was talking to me about his goal to make his health better and I suggested he looked into coaches for this purpose. He recently retired so he has more time to focus on getting professional health services and better his eating and exercising habits. I liked that you said that a health coach can look at the whole individual and listen to their concerns.

    • Hello! Thank you for reaching out! I think it’s wonderful that your father is considering improving his health. I would love to be a part of his journey or at least chat with him to see if I could be of service. Feel free to visit thehappypharmacist.com/book or give me a call at 717-455-0480.


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