We Could All Use a Health Coach

Courtney Hamilton, a publicist in Los Angeles, is a prime example of someone who has benefited from a health coach. She had suffered for more than 20 years with the debilitating digestive symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome until a health coach at Parsley Health, a national network of primary care clinics, told her it wasn’t normal for her belly to “blow up” as if she was six months pregnant after eating an ordinary meal.

Tests at the clinic in Los Angeles revealed that her gut was overrun with gas-causing bacteria that thrived on her often haphazard diet. Treated first with antibiotics to kill off the harmful organisms, she was told she had to make drastic changes in her diet to keep them at bay. A health coach taught her how and was on call to help whenever she had problems or questions.

“It was very difficult to navigate at first,” Ms. Hamilton said. “All the fun foods in my life were banned for the sake of my quality of life. But the health coach helped me over the rough spots and made healthier decisions easier. She gave me recipes and cooking tips and taught me what to order in restaurants. In a matter of months my bowels were normal for the first time in decades.”

Erica Zellner, a health coach at the Parsley clinic, said, “I never met a patient that didn’t have some resistance to change. Coaches take the time to get to know patients fully, find their internal motivation and set them up for success that’s personalized. Health happens in the 99.9 percent of your life when you’re not in the doctor’s office.”

Angela Hill said her goal as a health coach at Iora Primary Care in Seattle is to build a relationship with patients, learn what concerns them, what their health goals are and what might be keeping them from making needed behavior changes.

“I meet the patients where they’re at, find out what’s holding them back and go forward from there,” she said. “Together we come up with attainable goals and a plan that’s easy and accessible for the patient to implement,” she said.

Dr. Russell S. Phillips, director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care, told me, “Health coaching should be an integral part of primary care. It helps patients better manage chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension and improves outcomes.

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