Can chronic disease patients really change poor lifestyle habits? Here’s one way to engage them

June 18, 2019 |  Population Health, Patient Engagement

Attractive young woman with a trainer at the gym smiling up at him as they discuss her progress in a health and fitness concept

Lisa, a 45-year old single mother, visits her primary care physician complaining of fatigue and excessive thirst; blood tests reveal she has high blood glucose. She walks out of the clinic with a prescription and a pamphlet about type 2 diabetes. Now what?

Managing your health isn’t just about attending doctor’s appointments, but what happens after those visits. The choices that Lisa makes after she leaves her physician’s office will largely determine the duration and quality of her life from now on. Will she be able to stay engaged with her new diet and exercise plan, even though she won’t be seeing her physician again for another six months?

The biggest hurdle for most chronic disease patients isn’t a lack of knowledge about their conditions, but a lack of meaningful support to permanently apply what they know. Our behavior is firmly planted in how we understand the world, and our place in it. So true behavior change comes about only when wellness habits become part of our identity, rather than a burden.

Because poor nutritional and fitness habits are so hard to break, a growing number of providers are now looking to health coaches to help facilitate sustainable health behavior change among higher-risk patient populations. According to the Healthcare Intelligence Network’s (HIN) report detailing 2018 Healthcare Benchmarks on Health Coaching, organizations’ use of these programs rose from 70% in 2016 to 81% in 2018.

Targeted areas in which health coaching efforts have been most effective are chronic care management, care transitions, weight management, medication adherence, physical activity, and tobacco use. These programs have been shown to enhance the efficiency of care delivery as well as improve healthcare organizations’ bottom lines through better outcomes. For example, Meadville Medical Center has partnered with nearby Allegheny College for their student health coach initiative, successfully reducing hospital admissions by 45% and ER visits by 25%.

Even more importantly, health coaches are giving patients the support and confidence to achieve wellness goals that may previously have been considered out-of-reach. For a patient struggling with lifelong obesity and emotional eating behaviors, the experience of repeatedly losing weight only to quickly gain it back again can have devastating psychological effects.

Health coaches are trained to guide patients through these setbacks and address the root causes of detrimental health behaviors, so they can move towards longer-lasting lifestyle changes. Imagine the sense of achievement that a patient would feel after losing 50 pounds and coming off diabetes medications - knowing they now have the skills to better manage their health over the long haul.   

Embracing wellness isn’t easy. It’s a lifelong, day-by-day journey. It encompasses both physical and mental challenges, including the patient’s personal vision of their own past, present, and future. Visits to our physicians are just periodic check-ins, but the real work happens when we are not in our PCP’s office.

Chronic disease patients need to know they don’t have to do it all alone. By partnering with health coaches, healthcare organizations can ensure that their communities have the support they need, to get the outcomes we all want.   

Watch our webinar on how MEDITECH’s patient engagement tools give patients a place at the table as collaborators and equal participants in their care and promote their continued health and wellness. 

Watch The Patient Engagement Webinar Recording

Written by Christina Latour, CHC, Senior Promotional Writer, MEDITECH

Christina Latour is a certified health coach with over 22 years of healthcare experience - including roles in Implementation, Service, and Marketing at MEDITECH. She earned her certification with Mastery of the Transformational Coaching Method from the Health Coach Institute, and her BA in Psychology from Merrimack College.
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