In the News: Virtual Health Coaches Support Traditional Healthcare Delivery Models
Orthus Health's virtual coaching program represents a new element in the traditional healthcare landscape and allows clients to take their health into their own hands on their own time.
See the original article on WRAL TechWire here.
by Abbey Slattery
You’ve recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure. You know you need to start eating a more nutritious diet and getting into a regular workout regimen. You want to develop healthier habits to keep your blood pressure in check — but it’s a lot easier said than done.
To get advice or recommendations, you would typically have to put a call into your doctor’s office, schedule an appointment days or even weeks into the future, and spend your downtime worrying about how to stay motivated.
Imagine, instead, a helping hand that helps you stay on track with your care plan and is there to lend you advice and motivation when you need it.
That’s the appeal of virtual health coaching.
Even with telemedicine providing options to see a doctor outside of the office, it sometimes isn’t enough. People do better with regular support and some issues, such as chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, can be more optimally addressed by a health coach. Fast Company reported the wellness industry, which includes virtual health coaching, is on the rise — as a Global Wellness Institute research fellow put it, it is becoming “less episodic and more intentional, integrative and holistic.”
Suffice to say, the rise of workplace wellness programs and virtual health coaching signals a major transformation to the face of healthcare. Orthus Health, with its singular, mobile-enabled platform, has been on the forefront of the wellness movement.
“With the cost of healthcare skyrocketing, wellness programs with virtual coaching are a cost-effective option to supporting individuals outside the doctor’s office. Also, it’s convenient for people with busy schedules or limited transportation,” said Dawn Koch, a virtual health coach for Orthus Health. “Not everybody needs to physically see their doctor or go to an ER to stay on track with their care plan.”
Koch is one of the many virtual coaches that works at Orthus Health. Although her particular background is in health and exercise science, the coaching team as a whole is made up of a wide variety of HIPAA-trained professionals, ranging from registered nurses to dieticians to exercise physiologists.
Each coach is dedicated to building personal, long-standing relationships with each individual they serve. Coaches also structure communications based on the individual’s preferences — whether it be a weekly, monthly, or even quarterly basis.
Orthus Health’s virtual coaching programs deal with the most common health issues, including tobacco cessation, pre-diabetes, prehypertension, weight loss and cholesterol. Each wellness and condition management program identifies and addresses modifiable health risks — or factors that are within one’s control.
“I think it’s a really good in-between to have virtual health coaching, because at that point, you’re able to check in on how you’re doing, or if you have been checking your blood sugar at home and it’s been running a little high, then you can talk to one of the nurses or us and walk through your diet,” said Crystal Henderson, another Orthus Health virtual coach. “What’s changed? Have you been walking? Are you stressed? It’s not only a good check-in, but it also helps you have a better conversation with your doctor. Then, once you do get to the appointment, you know exactly what to talk about.”
Henderson’s background is in public health and health behavior education, so much of her focus revolves around the behavioral side of these issues — in other words, how to get to the root of the problem and deconstruct the learned habits that caused them.
“A lot of our habits and routines are based off of behaviors, whether it’s something that we learned as a child or things that we picked up as adults,” Henderson explained. “It’s tackling that behavior and changing that first, or better understanding it. That way, you have the outcome you want and the change you want to see. Understanding how to manage that behavior also helps in making progress toward your health goals.”
Since virtual health coaches spend a fair amount of time speaking with their clients, they’re often able to develop close relationships — relationships that make sharing intimate health problems and concerns more comfortable. Additionally, since the virtual coaches are able to build up an in-depth knowledge of their clients’ background, they’re also able to help them aim for realistic goals and overcome roadblocks on their way to a healthier lifestyle.
“Individuals have a relationship with their coach and through that relationship, we’ve been able to elicit specific behavior modification or behavioral changes that have helped them improve their health,” Koch said. “That goes back to having that relationship where they feel like they can reach out to you, but also where you can help them set reasonable goals. So many times, people are unsuccessful in improving their health because they set unreasonable goals.”
Koch continued, “For example, New Year’s was just here. Someone may say, ‘I want to lose 50 pounds by February.’ It’s not a reasonable goal, right? We try to have them think about what’s healthy and what’s realistic based on their limitations. Everyone has their own story, their own limitations, their own barriers. We try to make it specific to them.”
Added Henderson, “You don’t have to wait a month to go see your doctor and discuss issues that you might be having with your weight loss. Virtual health coaching helps people progress a lot sooner.”
With so many advantages — locational convenience, decreased costs, increased accountability — virtual health coaching may very soon become a household term, if it hasn’t reached that status yet already.