Are you considering acquiring a health coach or are a practitioner? Are you feeling overwhelmed with making lifestyle changes? If so, this article is for you. Read on to learn why coaches are essential to combating the epidemic of chronic mental, physical, and emotional diseases that we face today.
With chronic disease on the rise, we simply can’t afford to continue doing the same thing over and over again. Let's thank Einstein for clarifying that that's what insane people do. I'd like to outline a new model for your health—one that relies heavily on a team of health coaches working alongside clinicians.
Holistic Health Coaches are an incredible asset to any practice and are an underutilized sector in the healthcare system. Health coaches support patients in making lasting nutritional, lifestyle, and behavior changes. This frees up time and improves your chances of not having to become a chronic patient. Healthcare providers are being overworked with an average interaction with a Dr. lasting less than 10 minutes. This is not a system worth continuing to proliferate. After all, our health should be valued more than a 10-minute visit that feels like a whirlwind.
From the health coach’s perspective, working collaboratively with doctors offers them a clear treatment plan and a meaningful and rewarding way to make a living. This article will discuss all of these topics and highlight the essential role that health coaches play in battling the rising chronic disease epidemic. Shout out to Chris Kresser who has an excellent podcast named Revolution Health Radio for the compiling following statistics.
The ever-rising tide of chronic disease
When the conventional model of medicine was born, the primary causes of disease were acute infectious diseases: tuberculosis, typhoid, and pneumonia. The “one doctor, one cause, one treatment” paradigm was effective at restoring health.
Today, seven of ten deaths in the United States are caused by chronic disease. Consider the following statistics:
One in two Americans has a chronic disease; one in four has multiple chronic diseases
27% of children in the United States now have a chronic disease (up from 13% in 1994)
By 2030, chronic disease will account for $47 trillion in healthcare expenditures
Moreover, chronic diseases are often multifactorial—the result of a complex interaction between genetic predisposition and several environmental factors. As of 2016, an estimated 85 percent of chronic disease can be explained by factors other than genetics.
Bad behaviors and the need for change
It’s evident that chronic disease is the single biggest threat to your health today. Moreover, it’s a behavior change that is really needed to prevent and reverse chronic disease.
According to the CDC, the top five behaviors for preventing chronic disease include not smoking, getting regular physical activity, consuming moderate amounts of alcohol or none at all, maintaining normal body weight, and obtaining daily sufficient sleep. Yet as of 2013, only 6.3 percent of Americans engage in all five of these health-promoting behaviors.
Why do only 6.3% of Americans engage in all top five healthy behaviors?
The reality is that behavior change is hard, and most people have never been taught how to do it successfully. Everyone wants to get the most out of life. Everyone knows that eating junk food, not moving, and staying up all night isn’t good for them. Yet most people continue these behaviors. They might try a drastic diet or exercise regimen, but these often aren’t sustainable in the long term. People need help in making lifestyle habits that stick.
Physicians lack the time and training to implement behavior change.
What about physicians? Can’t they help with behavior change? Unlikely. The average visit with a primary care physician lasts a meager 10 minutes—barely enough time to review the patient’s current medications, ask them about any new symptoms, and prescribe a new drug. It’s not even close to the amount of time necessary to assess their nutrition, behavior, and lifestyle; identify areas for improvement, and provide the support necessary for sustaining these changes. Even a Functional Medicine practitioner, who might spend 30 to 60 minutes with a patient, will be hard-pressed to instill lasting behavior change.
Moreover, most doctors, nurses, and physician assistants aren’t trained in behavior change. Instead, they are trained in the “expert” model of care, where they simply tell patients what to do and expect them to do it. This works when the patient is facing an acute health issue, but it fails miserably for long-term behavioral changes like managing stress, starting an exercise routine, or losing body fat. For most people, information itself does not change behavior. Behavior change happens at home, not in the clinic.
Lastly, we simply don’t have enough physicians to make it happen. It’s estimated that we will have a shortage of 52,000 primary care physicians (PCPs) by the year 2025. We’ll need PCPs to be focused on interpreting lab results, making diagnoses, and recommending treatment plans, not on primary prevention habits.
The role of health coaches
This is where a holistic health coach such as a Sweat Nation Coach can come in. A recent review defined health coaching as “a client- or patient-centered process that assumes a working relationship/partnership develops between patient and [coach] to advance healthy lifestyle behavior change using tools such as nonjudgmental dialogue, goal setting, and accountability”.
In other words, health coaches can spend more time with the client/patient, walking them through ways to make behavioral changes last, and are often specifically trained in techniques like:
Habit formation and reversal. Since only 6 percent of people engage in the top five health behaviors, reversing bad habits like smoking and forming new habits like eating well and getting enough sleep are the key to reversing chronic disease.
Motivational interviewing, which encourages patients to link new behavior changes to their deepest needs and goals (for example: “I will change my nutrition and lifestyle because I want to have the vitality to enjoy my kids").
Positive psychology, which uses the patient’s strengths, rather than their weaknesses, to make behavior changes
Ultimately, coaches act as allies, helping the patient to build confidence and self-awareness, encouraging them to become their own health advocate, and supporting them in developing the skills to sustain new behaviors.
Plus, studies consistently find that health coaches improve patient outcomes and patient satisfaction. One systematic review concluded that health coaching was effective for patients with cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. These are the current champions of chronic diseases plaguing us today. Can you imagine how much healthier we would be if it was common practice to see a health coach at least once a week? Perhaps we wouldn't be experiencing this healthcare disaster that the powers that be can't figure out.
The perks of a health coach
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of the collaborative model for physicians and patients, let’s talk about the benefits for you of having a health coach.
A clear treatment plan: while many health coaches can successfully work independently, working within a Functional Medicine practice enables the coach to be part of a care team that includes licensed clinicians and other allied health professionals. The combination of Functional Medicine diagnostic and treatment strategies with health coaching and nutritional support is the most successful approach when it comes to treating and preventing chronic disease.
Low barriers to entry: it’s much easier to schedule time with your health coach than it is to see your doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner. While there are certainly benefits to going t see your doctor. As the system is today, it is not very practical. Having a health coaching is an excellent opportunity for those of us that want to help reinvent the crumbling healthcare system.
The ability to make a difference: Research is now suggesting that the first generation that is not expected to outlive their parents has just been born. Instilling lasting behavior change using evidence-based methods and witnessing patients rediscover their health and vitality is extremely needed at this time. Health Holistic coaches are truly a part of tackling the chronic disease epidemic, one client/patient at a time.
Sweat Nation founder Flip Aguilera has recently signed up to become a CHEK Holistic Health Coach and will be acquiring the knowledge to help you realize your optimal self.
Here's to your health, wealth and happiness!
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