When Health Coaches Draft Reluctant Players

Monday, September 12th, 2005
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

Guest Blogger: Patricia Donovan

Health coaches appear to be the MVPs of healthcare these days, supporting physicians in management of chronic illnesses and helping selected members devise a self-management plan. It would seem to be a win-win situation all around—healthier members and reduced costs for chronic care.

However, I’ve heard a couple of gripes from the peanut gallery. Two people I know have recently been contacted by health coaches, and neither of them was pleased. One woman barely out of her twenties was identified as a potential candidate for a healthy lifestyles program after her insurance company reviewed her medical records—including her weight. And not too long ago, a family member diagnosed with a chronic condition several years ago received a letter from her health plan’s health coach. The coach said she was now available to answer any questions about this condition, and would contact this relative whenever new information in the treatment of this illness became available.

So far, so good, right? In the younger woman’s case, she was somewhat embarrassed to be contacted about her weight issues, but ultimately agreed to participate in the program. My family member, however, found the contact worrisome. She is proactive about her healthcare and has a great relationship with her doctor, who sees her immediately whenever her condition flares up and monitors her medication intake.

This relative is concerned that the health coach will ultimately become the first line of defense, putting her doctor-patient relationship at risk. She’s fearful that if she establishes a rapport with a coach, her insurance company may one day refuse to cover some of her doctor visits, something she’s not willing to risk. She also believes she is knowledgeable enough about her condition to know that changing her behavior is not going to make her condition go away.

She feels she’s become a name and an illness on a list somewhere, and is being unfairly targeted for her health condition. She is scared and angry and for now has decided to ignore the letters from the health coach. But she’s worried about the future ramifications of this new approach.

I admit I hadn’t really thought about it from this perspective—how it feels to get a call from the coach. Health coaches are doing a wonderful job of recruiting that 20 percent of the population who generate 80 percent of healthcare costs, often by refusing to adopt healthy lifestyles. You’d think most people would be happy to have an additional line of support. But if the patient is succeeding as a free agent, must we force them to be a team player? I’m interested to hear how coaches—and health plans—are reassuring members about this issue.

Related Posts:

Comments are closed.