Health Coaches Help Clinicians Achieve Better Patient Outcomes

            Read time: 3 minutes

It is an enormous responsibility to be tasked with taking care of the health of an individual. Physicians have known this since the dawn of medicine, but only recently has science begun to shed light on the sheer complexity of what it means to care for the whole person—body, mind, and spirit—beyond disease manifestation. Many functional medicine clinicians realize they cannot always do this alone and, as a result, are transitioning to team-based care by integrating other healthcare providers into their teams, including health coaches.

In the following video, IFM educator Patrick Hanaway, MD, talks about the critical role that a collaborative care team that includes nutritionists and health coaches plays in helping patients make the behavior/lifestyle changes they need for optimal health.

(Video Time 2 minutes) Patrick Hanaway, MD, is a board certified family physician who teaches on the clinical application of nutritional biochemistry, with an emphasis on digestion, immunology, mitochondrial function, and wellness. Dr. Hanaway has served on the executive committee for the American Board of Integrative Medicine, is past president of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine, and is the former director of research at Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.

Team-based care is now recognized as an essential feature of high-quality primary care,1 as it has the potential to improve the comprehensiveness, coordination, efficiency, effectiveness, and value of care.2 For the patient, team-based care offers many potential advantages, including expanded access to care and additional services that are essential to providing whole-person care, such as patient education and behavioral health.3 Team-based care can also be considered “patient-centered” care—care that is relationship-based and makes the patient feel known, respected, involved, engaged, and knowledgeable.3 Many patients value effective team-based health care that treats them as people, not cases, conditions, or diseases.3

Leveraging the expertise of a health coach can empower patients to make better health decisions and engage in shared decision-making with their providers.4 Patients at the community health center level reported higher comprehension of their providers’ suggested care plans and were more likely to adhere to their treatments.4 The diabetic subset of this population also improved their care continuity, with health coaches playing a key role in promoting podiatric and other specialty care while also helping patients manage their appointments.4

Health coaches play a critical role as liaison between practitioner and patient, improving clinical effectiveness and reducing risk factors for a range of diseases through meaningful lifestyle modifications.5 Team-based care models marked significant improvement of patients’ lifestyle biomarkers that signal and contribute to physiological dysfunction: blood pressure, blood sugar levels (A1c), lipid levels, waist circumference, and body weight ratio.4 Modifying lifestyle behaviors, including nutrition and exercise, can alter the health trajectory of patients with chronic conditions and serve as a critical tool for prevention.5,6 A compendium of health coaching literature validates this fact: health and wellness coaching yields positive clinical outcomes and helps patients sustain cost-effective lifestyle changes that drive down the occurrence and long-term expenditures of chronic diseases.7

At the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy (FMCA), students learn how to apply core coaching techniques and the principles of functional medicine and nutrition, mind-body medicine, and positive psychology to transform patient lives. Functional Medicine Certified Health Coaches work in tandem with clinicians to provide consistent, team-based care to achieve better outcomes and patient satisfaction. For more information about the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, please read the following IFM-authored articles.

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  1. Wagner EH, Flinter M, Hsu C, et al. Effective team-based primary care: observations from innovative practices. BMC Fam Pract. 2017;18(1):13. doi:1186/s12875-017-0590-8
  2. Schottenfeld L, Petersen D, Peikes D, et al. Creating patient-centered team-based primary care; AHRQ Publication No. 16-0002-EF. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Published March 2016. Accessed October 6, 2020.
  3. Okun S, Schoenbaum SC, Andrews D, et al. Patients and health care teams: forging effective partnerships [discussion paper]. Institute of Medicine. Published December 2014. Accessed October 6, 2020.
  4. Domingo JB, Macabeo AL, Kaiko-George M, et al. Implementing a health coaching curriculum in Hawaii’s community health centers. Hawaii J Med Public Health. 2019;78(6 Suppl 1):65-69.
  5. Gordon NF, Salmon RD, Wright BS, Faircloth GC, Reid KS, Gordon TL. Clinical effectiveness of lifestyle health coaching: case study of an evidence-based program. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;11(2):153-166. doi:1177/1559827615592351
  6. Kennel J. Health and wellness coaching improves weight and nutrition behaviors. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018;12(6):448-450. doi:1177/1559827618792846
  7. Sforzo GA, Kaye MP, Todorova I, et al. Compendium of the health and wellness coaching literature. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2017;12(6):436-447. doi:1177/1559827617708562


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