Health Coaching, Telehealth, and the Future of Healthcare

Published:

November 18, 2020

Image via Shutterstock

Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, CDCES, NBC-HWC, ACC, C-AP, CYT, CAS, CTTS

Health coaching and the power of telehealth

In these months of shelter-in-place and social distancing, a nascent medical paradigm featuring telehealth practitioners has flourished. According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), telehealth is “the use of telecommunications technologies to deliver health-related services and information that support patient care, administrative activities, and health education.”  

Today, with virtual living as the norm, conventional healthcare is quickly shifting from in-person doctor visits, long appointment wait-times, and the need for referrals, to a rapid response, integrative healthcare team at the touch of a button. 

Healthcare professionals and ancillary care providers such as Health Coaches are now readily accessible through health and wellness apps. Direct from a phone or computer and in the privacy and safety of home, patients can reach a physician, a personal Health Coach, a mental health professional, and various others working as members of an interdisciplinary care team. Providers are also no longer isolated, but rather work together to provide an integrative, holistic healthcare experience through a virtual health clinic. 

This extended reach allows for individualized and customizable health care through continuous contact with the care team and valuable interactive educational content. Often partnered with mHealth, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the use of mobile and wireless technologies to support the achievement of health objectives,” virtual health clinics now have powerful tools to monitor patients in real-world settings between visits.

Corporate wellness programs popularize this approach by offering apps with multiple provider services. Medical insurers like Cigna, Kaiser, and United Healthcare, along with wellness companies like Omada Health, Livongo, Virtru, Lark Health, Parsley Health, Noom, Vida Health, and Zipongo, employ physicians, registered dietitians, certified diabetes care and education specialists, Health Coaches, pharmacists, and therapists who conduct video visits and interact with patients through the app. This instant, digital access attempts to deliver first-class care in a convenient, virtual setting.

What can virtual clinics do for patients?

Whether patients suffer from chronic medical conditions or are just curious about healthy lifestyle changes, integrative virtual care clinics facilitate self-improvement with live and automated wellness support.

One of the most prominent providers of well-being for these apps are Health and Wellness Coaches. Coaches are experts in behavior change and Self-Determination Theory (SDT) and empower individuals to adopt and maintain positive lifestyle choices. By creating the virtual environment for individuals to uncover their intrinsic motivation, coaches illuminate the path to a growth mind-set and generative moments, which can drive long-lasting change. With enhanced decision-making and greater self efficacy, individuals working with telehealth coaches display increased confidence and the readiness to succeed with their health goals.

Virtual clinics and Health Coaches have noted an increase in the support they provide for the following conditions: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Diabetes (DM)
  • Exercise
  • High Blood Pressure/Hypertension
  • Nutrition
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Stress
  • Weight Loss

While addressing these conditions and more, individuals benefit from daily communication with their providers. Coupled with interactive educational lessons and the ability to track their food, exercise, sleep, and nutrition with digital logs and wearable activity-measuring devices, the advantages of virtual care clinics may be limitless. Becoming familiar with the technological features of virtual health care apps will help patients to more seamlessly connect with their team and utilize digital health tools for self-healing. 

Which apps offer the best-in-class virtual care team?

A new body of research evaluating telehealth and virtual health coaching is providing insight into which corporate virtual health clinics and apps are the best in the industry.

Several investigative studies are assessing the impact of telehealth on weight loss, cardiometabolic disorders, and behavioral health, with diabetes as potentially the most explored chronic condition. Results from digital app diabetes and diabetes prevention programs (DPPs) approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown great promise for individuals with diabetes. Studies using a live or virtual Health Coach and DM or DPP app programs indicate a potential reduction in glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1C) values between -0.14 and -1.1 within months to one year, along with improvements in cholesterol of -7.08mg/dL and weight loss of -4.2% to -7.6%.

For a global, tech-savvy audience, results such as these combined with live provider care, in-app tracking tools, and interactive education content, offer tangible hope for virtual clinics as a mainstay in today’s healthcare system. 

Who is training telehealth providers?

Virtual health clinics are fortunate to have two pioneers training exceptional Health Coaches. The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and our educational partner Saybrook University offer top-notch integrative health coaching programs. IIN is licensed in both New York and Ohio and is an approved program with the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) to provide IIN graduates with the opportunity to become a certified Health Coach. Saybrook University is accredited by both of the highest institutions in the field of coaching, the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the NBHWC.

What sets these programs apart is their integrative approach to training the modern Health and Wellness Coach, an extensive cache of health and wellness topics, and the presentation of multiple perspectives so learners develop their unique, personal approach to health coaching. Both IIN and Saybrook University focus on foundational core coaching competencies, evidence-based research, and best practices to support well-being in others and a holistic approach to healthy lifestyles. Students gain invaluable skills in co-creating the client relationship, establishing trust, coaching presence, effective communication, creating awareness, designing actions, goal setting, and more. Courses emphasize critical evaluation of published literature, nutrition and lifestyle medicine, and their impacts in the field of coaching. Moreover, programs prepare students for real-world coaching opportunities and support their discovery of a personalized coaching niche.

Since both programs are delivered online, students are introduced early on to telehealth formats and are uniquely prepared for the current and rapidly evolving virtual coaching profession.

How Health Coaches in virtual care clinics are changing the face of healthcare

Health Coaches have come a long way since their debut in the 1990s and are now highly-trained, well-respected ancillary healthcare professionals elevating the standard of care in virtual clinics. As key team providers, they support daily patient wellness, provide referrals, and manage the overall lifestyle plan for patients in between medical visits. Their efforts have been directly linked to improved clinical health outcomes, reduced health costs, and enhanced patient health behaviors, and patients are increasingly seeking their support as they make important health care decisions.

The positive impact of Health Coaches on patient care has been so great that the health and wellness coaching profession is now recognized by the American Medical Association with Category III CPT codes. Credentialed coaches are considered “nonphysician healthcare professionals certified by the NBHWC or National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.” These codes, developed in 2019, will be used to demonstrate that coverage for in-person and virtual clinic services is much needed, and will further show the value of Health Coaches as integral members of healthcare teams.

Given the new “normal” with the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual care clinics with staffed Health Coaches are now an essential part of the solution for connectivity between patient and provider. Encouraging this integrative approach will offer telehealth an unlimited reach to individuals seeking minute to minute wellness support and to quickly serve as the beacon guiding us toward the next innovation in healthcare. Learn more about how to get started as a Health Coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, who is partenered with Sayrbook University to offer IIN graduates the opportunity to earn higher education degrees in the health field.

 

Julie A. Cerrato, PhD, CDCES, NBC-HWC, ACC, C-AP, CYT, CAS, CTTS, is a nationally dual-credentialed (ICF & NBHWC) Health Coach and emerging thought leader in telehealth and higher education.

With more than a decade of experience in health and wellness, she is recognized for her leadership of Saybrook University’s Integrative Wellness Coaching graduate program and for her work in digital health program production and UX content development for lifestyle and chronic disease conditions. 

Dr. Cerrato’s most recent efforts fostering Saybrook University and IIN’s academic partnership is incredibly rewarding. Saybrook is honored to have an articulation agreement with IIN that accepts transfer credits toward Saybrook University's graduate master's and PhD programs. Collaborations such as this reflect the radiating impact of a humanistic experience.

Dr. Cerrato is dedicated to transforming lives through integrative wellness coaching, e-learning, and digital health. As Cisco LifeConnections Health Coach and coordinator in the integrative health center, she supported more than 3,000 patients using telehealth technology in its nascent stage. She continued making strides in telehealth as Vida Health’s Learning and Development (L&D) lead, creating their first L&D system. Earlier on, her work in medical education as a clinical science manager reached countless key opinion leaders in rheumatology, gastroenterology, dermatology, and cardiovascular disease to improve patient care. 

On the health education front, Dr. Cerrato is a leading advocate for wellness and served as director of health at WholesomeOne.com and holistic health editor for the San Francisco Examiner

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