Humanizing patient engagement with one-to-one coaching

Effective coaching delivered virtually must be conversational and personalized to the individual.

Providers understand the challenge to get patients with chronic health conditions to engage with treatment plans and lifestyle changes, even when the patient knows it leads to positive health outcomes. Telehealth solutions have shown some promise, yet providers aren’t able to deliver high-touch, follow-up care at scale. And while studies have shown that in-person behavioral counseling results in better outcomes for patients, such interventions are costly and time-consuming. So how can providers drive healthy lifestyle changes in patients, improve patient engagement, and do so at scale? Digital health coaching with a personal touch may be the answer.

Effective coaching delivered virtually must be conversational and personalized to the individual. Virtual platforms that leverage adaptive conversation engines offer promise to gain a deep understanding of an individual’s intrinsic motivators to inform highly personalized care which may improve treatment adherence and health-promoting behaviors.

The benefits of personalized coaching

Person-to-person health coaching, in tandem with physician-led care, has demonstrated improvements to chronic disease management. Health coaches work from a holistic framework that incorporates cognitive behavioral science to foster a patient’s self-awareness and recognize the connections between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Health coaches function as both educators and advocates for patients, providing the skills, tools, and knowledge to become active participants in their care. Studies show that health coaching, when exercised over the course of one year, may have lasting positive health effects.

The health coaching framework includes:

  • Assessment: Assess patient understanding of their chronic condition to determine the barriers to treatment adherence.
  • Intrinsic motivation: Uncovers intrinsic motivators unique to each patient to illustrate how treatment is intrinsically bonded to the patient’s motivations and goals.
  • Health Literacy: Impart the knowledge needed to develop an action plan to overcome barriers to treatment adherence.
  • Monitor progress: Consistent check-ins to monitor progress, revise the action plan, or revisit touchpoints as needed.

This collaborative process encourages shared decision-making. Since the patient feels more in control of the process and their self-identified health goals are in-focus, they are better equipped to apply the new skills, knowledge, and confidence to stick to their treatment plan.

How coaching improves patient engagement and adherence

While personal health coaches generally cannot prescribe medication or order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests, they can complement physicians by assessing patient literacy, providing support, and guiding the patient as they develop and carry out an action plan to achieve their health goals.

Let’s examine how coaching improves prescribed treatment with type 2 diabetes, for example. An individual with diabetes experiences the condition day in and day out with numerous circumstances cropping up.Trouble staying motivated towards goals, temptations from unhealthy food, and even stressful situations are all opportunities for someone to fall down and continue their unhealthy cycle.

If this individual has direct access to a personal health coach, they may get the support they need with a call or text. Although today’s technology theoretically makes personal coaches a phone or text message away, that accessibility becomes difficult to scale for the 60% of adults living with some type of chronic condition, especially if challenges arise during off hours. In contrast, personalized health coaching delivered via automated conversation offers 24-7 access for patients to get simple answers, timely education, and even some much-needed encouragement in a time of need. When paired with a human coach, this becomes a powerful combination that can be both effective and cost-efficient.

There is no shortage of effective health solutions, but without adherence and completion the desired outcomes will be lacking. As patients have more frequent communication about managing their chronic condition—on top of more readily-accessible information—they are more likely to adhere to a prescribed treatment plan and lifestyle recommendations from their physicians.

Innovative tech brings coaching to scale

We know that patient engagement is key to maximizing health outcomes for those with chronic disease. Recognizing that each patient follows their own specific care path, virtual platforms engage with patients via smart communications tailored to the individual.

Based on the patient’s responses, a highly personalized deployment of behavior modification techniques via e-mail or text in a variety of formats, including videos and virtual coaching libraries, can guide patients down an individualized path. As the patient continues to respond and make choices, healthy outcome measures are monitored allowing for ongoing customization so that self-identified goals may be achieved while preserving a personal touch.

As patient engagement is bolstered and health-promoting behaviors are practiced, hospitalizations and intensive interventions may be reduced allowing providers and health payers to realize a maximum ROI. Additionally, virtual coaching has the promise to further cost savings while honoring patient preferences in the following ways:

  • Capture data in real-time to augment coaching effectiveness.
  • Provide data to clinicians so adherence may be addressed.
  • Modify responses to match language and learning preferences, as well as account for different personality types, thus minimizing barriers to communication.

Healthcare systems are evolving to provide more human-centered care. Technology platforms that deliver personalized care work around-the-clock to identify opportunities for more tailored support – at scale – may manifest in better health outcomes for patients.

About the Author
Tim Aumueller is co-CEO of Avidon Health, a leading health engagement and behavior change company.