Michael Parkinson, M.D., is senior medical director of UPMC Health Plan and UPMC WorkPartners, which are part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division. UPMC WorkPartners provides health and productivity solutions to high-performing companies throughout the United States.
Research shows that patients are more likely to start and maintain healthy behaviors and control their medical conditions when their doctor recommends them. And, they’re even more successful when the doctor prescribes coaching to patients to help them do so. Numerous wellness and health management programs have recently been developed to enable physicians to “prescribe” healthier behaviors, chronic disease management and better decision-making about surgery for their patients. Examples of major interest to employers, employees and their families include coaching programs and online tools for stress management, maternity support, weight loss, high blood pressure and options for chronic back pain.
Coaching programs are particularly effective when doctors prescribe them as the found-ation of the patient’s health and disease care, not as an afterthought. Health and care coaching has been shown to increase healthy behaviors, patient self-care and adherence to their doctors’ care plans. By leveraging the trust and skill of the specially trained coach, patients acquire better understanding, set achievable goals and master new competencies, which leads to faster improvement and more sustained adoption.
Here, we’ll answer a few important questions about these programs:
Why Are an Increasing Number of Employers Offering Health Management Coaching Programs to Their Employees?
Most people realize that changing unhealthy habits to healthier behaviors can head off chronic diseases, prevent them from getting worse, and even reverse their effects. And while most health-care providers would love to continually encourage patients to adopt healthy behaviors and get to the root of their patients’ health issues, most doctors simply lack the time, expertise and resources needed for follow-up care. That’s where health management programs can help. These programs extend doctors’ influence between office visits and help patients stay with the care plans that were developed specifically for them.
How Do These Health Management Coaching Programs Work?
Let’s say that a doctor recommends or prescribes a weight loss program to help prevent a chronic disease such as diabetes. A trained health coach receives the physician’s order simultaneously as it’s given to the patient and by telephone contact, essentially “fills the prescription” by understanding the patient’s needs to recommend a health coaching program. The trained health-care professional provides appropriate support and encouragement along the way helping the patient to become healthier, more engaged and competent to manage their health and care. With feedback to the doctor, the health coach supports their doctor-patient relationship which is shown to produce better outcomes and usually lower costs. It’s truly a win-win since the doctor gains additional support while the patient gets the health and medical care assistance they need.
How Are Doctors Involved in The Program?
These health management programs don’t replace doctor’s care, rather they support doctor’s care. Each program is facilitated by nurses, dietitians, exercise experts and other licensed and trained clinicians, with medical director oversight. These health coach professionals provide support based on the doctor’s specific recommendations. The health coaches will even help patients better prepare for their next office visit, evaluate treatment options and help them improve their skills in communicating their preferences to their doctors. So each patient is in expert hands throughout the process.
What Type of Programs Are Available? There are health management programs in behavioral health, condition management, maternity and lifestyle improvement. The programs offer support for a range of needs, including depression and anxiety, substance abuse, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, prenatal care, weight loss and nutrition, stress management, and tobacco cessation. The health coaches also provide support for people who need to make decisions about medical treatments or elective procedures. As an added bonus, most programs have no copays for employees and increasingly, employers add additional incentives for health coaching enrollment and completion. Finally, health coaches are available either in person or via phone and on nights and weekends, to accommodate busy schedules.
For more information about UPMC Health Plan’s health management programs, contact Dr. Parkinson at 412/454-5643 or firstname.lastname@example.org.