The Value of Health Coaches
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The Value of Health Coaches 

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Helping to Keep Healthcare Costs Down for Employers & Employees

By Karen J. Bray, PhD, RN, CDE  

 Karen Bray
NORFOLK - June 15, 2009
- In life we’re sometimes reluctant to turn to others for help. If you’re like most, you’ll ignore a problem for a while before you decide to take action. Your personal health is paramount, but how often do we focus on it? As parents and spouses, we’re more likely to focus on the health and well being of our children and even our spouse. However, neglecting our own health can have serious consequences.

Employers across the country are learning that keeping their employees healthy improves their own financial health. And, one of the key ingredients to a healthy employee is a Health Coach. Employers are working with their health plans or hiring firms to engage Health Coaches to work one-on-one with their employees, as a mentor and guide, along the journey to improve their health. These individuals are a new breed of clinician, usually a nurse or nutrition expert, with a wide-range of tools in their toolbox to assist individuals to develop better health regimens.

Health Coaches are similar to any other kind of coach, in that their role is to direct the efforts of an individual or individuals towards a common goal. They’re like the director of a play or the conductor of an orchestra—their goal is to get you to where you need to be! Health Coaches are often called personal cheerleaders but their purpose is much more involved. They want to help employees make lasting lifestyle changes by accessing their readiness to change, defining short- and long-term attainable goals, identify triggers that prevent success, provide education and ultimately provide emotional support. It’s a personalized road map to good health.

In corporate America, the role of a Health Coach is to reach out to employees with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease and coax them into new routines and behavior change. Employees with chronic conditions contribute to increased health insurance premiums by continually utilizing their health insurance to treat the complications of their disease. If the company can encourage them to lose weight, take their prescriptions medication, or develop a fitness routine, then they will less likely need expensive healthcare. Not only does their improved health improve the costs of healthcare for the employer, the employee benefits by having a healthier lifestyle and reduced out-of-pocket healthcare expenses.

According to Employee Benefits Research Institute, the cost of employment-based health benefits has grown 50 percent since 2000, double the rate of growth in wages. With healthcare costs rising exponentially every year, American businesses are turning to health promotion programs and Health Coaches in an effort to reduce their premiums and employees are anxious to take advantage of the benefits.

If you have the opportunity to improve your health through employee-sponsored programs, jump on board. It’s a great way to maximize your health benefits and connect with coworkers who are dealing with similar issues. In the end, people who are healthy generally have a more positive attitude, increased productivity and an overall feeling of well being—who wouldn’t want that! 

Karen Bray, PhD., RN, CDE is vice president of clinical care services at Optima Health, a Virginia-based health plan with more than 390,000 members, nationally-recognized for its quality, service and innovative programs.

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