The American Medical Association Wants Health Coaches
Did you know that since 2016 the American Medical Association (AMA) has been advocating for physicians to partner with health coaches to improve patient outcomes? This is because health and wellness coaching is becoming a valuable tool in improving behavior change interventions in the treatment of chronic disease (Sforzo, Kaye, Todorova, 2017). The AMA even offers modules on how to integrate a health coaching program into a physician’s practice. This blog post will explore why it is important for more physicians to partner with health coaches.
As defined by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching, “Health and Wellness Coaches partner with clients seeking self-directed, lasting changes, aligned with their values, which promote health and wellness and, thereby, enhance well-being” (NBHWC, 2019). Helping patients change their behavior, such as in losing weight, lowering stress, and eating healthier, can improve overall health. In a doctor’s setting, health coaching can improve medication adherence, ensure patients understand their care plan, and help prevent certain chronic diseases with lifestyle changes (AMA, 2016).
Studies of healthcare professionals applying health and wellness coaching for the prevention and treatment of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and other chronic disorders have seen positive impacts. Coaching is “rapidly emerging as an adjunct treatment for lifestyle diseases, which collectively are the greatest causes of morbidity and mortality in the developed world. HWC holds great potential for advancing healthy behavior change and stemming the rising tide in prevalence of chronic disease” (Sforzo, et al., 2017). Specifically, in cancer patients, health coaching seems to improve psychological outcomes and increase quality of life. Coaching people with diabetes shows a positive impact on A1C and weight loss. For the prevention and treatment of heart disease, coaching is seen as “as a potentially effective adjunct treatment for both primary and secondary care” (Sforzo, et al., 2017). Studies show coaching having positive impacts on weight reduction with obesity too.
We know that majority of the chronic diseases facing us today are lifestyle-related diseases and behavior change is effective, but unachievable without tools and proper support. Physicians have limited time to work with patients to ensure patients have the knowledge, tools and motivation to make important changes. However, certified coaches are thoroughly trained to do this with motivational interviewing and behavior change techniques. Once a physician meets with a patient and works with them on health care decisions, they can delegate to a health coach who then works with the patient one on one. Research consistently shows that adding a health coach to a physician’s practice has a significant positive impact on patient health. A health coach can also implement health literacy strategies and communication techniques to ensure patients understand their care plans and help them achieve their goals (AMA, 2016).
Plus, coaches have more time to work with patients to uncover their motivations and help them be consistent in their new behaviors. Coaching sessions typically involve weekly or bimonthly meetings for 30-60 minutes for at least 3 months. Coaches develop relationships with clients, which boosts patient satisfaction, but also boosts self-efficacy and motivation to sustain these new habits. This means patients become healthier and stay healthier, which improves a physician’s quality metrics.
To sum, adding health coaches to medical practices improves patient health in the treatment of lifestyle and chronic disease, increases trust and satisfaction by the patient, frees up a physician’s time to see more people, and creates a well-rounded care model with the patient coming in regularly and not once every 2 or so years (AMA, 2016). Sounds like a win-win to us!
Maybe by now you’re wondering, well, how does this work with insurance and paying for this service? As of this writing, the AMA has updated their Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®) code set. This is what everyone in the medical community uses to share accurate information about medical services. It ensures a common language for reporting medical procedures. Health Coaching now has its own CPT code and soon will be billed for and reimbursed. This is an exciting time for health and wellness coaching - first with the National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coaching exam and now with more integration in the medical community.
AAPC (2019). What Is CPT?: https://www.aapc.com/resources/medical-coding/cpt.aspx
American Medical Association (2016). Health Coaching: Help Patient Take Charge Of Their Health: https://edhub.ama-assn.org/steps-forward/module/2702562
American Medical Association (2019). CPT Category III Codes. https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/2019-06/cpt-category3-codes-long-descriptors.pdf
Sforzo, G., Kaye, M., Todorova, I. (2017). Compendium of the Health and Wellness Coaching Literature: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1559827617708562