Guest Post: Group Health Coaching Improves Healthy Habits, Patient Wellness

Friday, January 10th, 2014
This post was written by Megan Coatley

Group health coaching is an evidence-based, cost-effective way to help individuals achieve their wellness goals.

For patients or health plan members who have trouble losing weight, getting active, or adhering to their doctor’s or nutritionist’s advice, it might be time to consider group health coaching. Studies show that group health coaching is an evidence-based, cost-effective way to support individuals in succeeding in their wellness goals.

Group coaching combines the following key elements in order to boost participants’ success and goal achievement:

  • Guidance from a behavior specialist to help participants break wellness goals into manageable steps and create a clear, actionable path to success.
  • Hands-on lessons about the science of habit change and take-home activities so that participants can immediately apply the information in their own lives.
  • Connections with others who share the value of healthy living, and are on a similar wellness journey, so that participants can draw strength from supportive peers.
  • Frequent celebration of accomplishments and specific praise and feedback from the health coach for participants’ small steps toward overall wellness.
  • Regularly scheduled group sessions that build in accountability and keep participants committed to healthy change.

Physicians Promote Group Coaching for Patient Wellness

Individuals managing a chronic illness shouldn’t have to struggle alone. Luckily, group health coaching is an up-and-coming model of care that physicians are using to help patients create a community where they can connect with others and learn to thrive.

With the rise in chronic illness, there is a great need for patient-centered care that addresses lifestyle factors, increases patient education, and supports self-management of healthy habit change. Group medical visits are a relatively new model of patient care that allow physicians to deliver more comprehensive patient education and self-management instruction. During a group visit, 10 to 20 patients with similar chronic problems, such as diabetes or coronary artery disease, meet together with their physician to get a regular check-up and also discuss personal goals and barriers to treatment. Group visits offer patients with similar conditions more face time with their physician and also provide the opportunity to learn from and support one another in achieving wellness goals.

So, how does behavioral health coaching fit into the medical group visit model? Typically, the physician meets with the group to conduct the necessary elements of an individual patient visit (e.g., collection of vital signs, history taking and physical exam), and then a behavior specialist facilitates the educational component and group discussion, and addresses each patient’s psychosocial concerns.

With input from the physician, the behavior specialist spends the majority of the group visit covering topics such as medication management, stress management, exercise and nutrition, and community resources. He/she will also field questions and concerns from participants and offer suggestions and advice that applies directly to their particular situations at home. The group coach will also spend time helping each patient to create behavior-change action plans and set personalized goals that they aim to accomplish by the next session. Patients’ family members can also be included in these group sessions so that everyone is better informed and more committed to healthy change.

Organizations Consider Health Coaching for Employee Wellness

As an employer, your employees are your organization’s MOST important resources. We all know that effective wellness programming can help reduce employee sick time, decrease in staff turn over, improve work satisfaction, and increase staff productivity. And, group health coaching can be a key component in successful, employee-centered wellness programming.

When considering group health coaching for employees, there are several other metrics that could be analyzed to prove return on investment. Outside of the old standard of participation and number of unique users, employers are encouraged to track more customized measures that reflect the unique culture of their organizations. Some examples of these customized metrics might include:

  • Percentage of participants who meet their self-determined goals each week
  • Type of goals that are set (This information can be utilized to inform future site-specific wellness programming.)
  • Number of healthy behaviors that generalize outside of the program
  • Percentage of participants who enroll in additional employee wellness services and programs during/after group coaching
  • Percentage of participants that continue self-determined goal-setting after the program ends
  • Number of longer-term connections formed within the group (Employees who build a supportive network of peers are more likely to report job satisfaction.)
  • Perception of their power to change health habits before and after course
  • Productivity in the workplace during and after the group coaching program (Workplace productivity is often linked to healthy lifestyle change.)

An added benefit of group health coaching, as opposed to self-paced, independent employee wellness programs, is that it is a highly engaging program, led by a qualified professional. In building relationships with participants, the group coach can identify those who could benefit from additional supports and refer them for further medical or mental health consultation. The group coach can help employees overcome hurdles to preventive care by demystifying the health risk assessment and the process of reaching out for additional help. The same connections cannot be made via online gaming wellness programs or self-paced weight loss or walking challenges.

Group health coaching is effective and cost-efficient for individuals, families, patients with chronic illness, and employees. A health coach provides important education, tools and strategies for lasting change. And the added bonus of working with a group of peers means that individuals are more likely to stay engaged and accountable in the long run. For those keen to commit to healthier lifestyle habits, consider group health coaching to boost their chances of success.

Not sure whether group coaching is a good fit for your patients or members? Set aside your stereotypes of stale, boring support groups. Coaching circles can take the form of a hike, wine night, coffee shop chat, or an office party, and can incorporate an activity and location that is easily accessible (and even fun!) for participants. The group coach can lead dynamic lessons about the science of habit change, guide participants in health-focused goal-setting, and then open the floor for dynamic discussions about participants’ personal desires, motivations and barriers.

Megan Coatley, MA, BCBA, CPT, is the founder of SPARK Behavior Solutions, LLC, located in Boulder, Colorado. As a board certified behavior analyst and health coach, she specializes in teaching others the principles of behavior science, so that they can create lasting healthy habit change. The strategies she teaches participants during SPARK Coaching Circles help her clients to master healthy nutrition, fitness, stress management, and work/life balance. She partners with local physicians to provide group health coaching for their patients, offers individual sessions in-person and via phone and Skype, and also teaches employers to lead wellness coaching groups, so that organizations can continue boosting employee wellness long after her consultation ends.

HIN Disclaimer: The opinions, representations and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and not of the Healthcare Intelligence Network as a whole. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. The company accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

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