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What is a Health Coach?

Amanda R. Bell
Amanda R. Bell

A health coach, also known as a wellness coach, is a person who helps patients work toward improving their health. They help patients set and meet health goals, overcome any health-related obstacles and aid them in setting up support systems. The partnership between a health coach and his patient is based on accountability, with the theory being that people are more likely to improve their habits if they have someone to whom they must answer.

While traditional medical practice is more about providing information to the patient that he may do with as he will, a health coach works to make sure the patient applies this information to his everyday life. This can include everything from implementing certain diets or exercise guidelines to taking and monitoring medications. A health coach also helps patients pinpoint their concerns and issues with their conditions, as well as what they would like to change, and then aids them in removing and minimizing any obstacles in the way of their goals. The overall objective of a health coach is to not only teach their patient but to counsel him, as well.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

A health coach can work one on one with a patient or work with a group, and he can conduct his coaching in person, by telephone or through electronic communication. A health coach, while helpful to almost anyone, is particularly useful to those who lack motivation or discipline; those who require a personalized plan; those who have difficulty making sense of all of the different fitness, health and nutrition information available; and those who value privacy. He often meets with a patient a few times a week, though they can meet as little as once every few months for maintenance after many of the patient’s goals are met.

Although there are several certifications for health coaching, they are not legally required. Many professional health coaches have backgrounds in the medical field, oftentimes in physical training and nutrition. While recent studies and research have overwhelmingly shown the success of patients working with a health coach, it is a relatively new job title and many doctors do not refer patients to a health coach. Certain comprehensive medical insurance plans through large or progressive companies do offer health coaching coverage, although typical insurance often does not.

Professional, certified health coaches often work with chronically ill patients to help them improve their quality of life. They also work with otherwise healthy patients who wish to improve their overall health, whether it be eating well, quitting smoking or reducing their risk of future medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Working with a health coach is a form of preventive medicine and is becoming increasingly popular as a way to improve health and lower healthcare costs.

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