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Does Health Coaching For Employees Work?

Does health coaching work? Yes! Data shows that participants who work one-on-one with health coaches reduce health risks, become more engaged in their health, and show improvement in chronic conditions. Health coaching can also lead to greater employee engagement, increased productivity, and an enhanced culture of well-being. In this week’s blog, we explore how health coaching adds value to participants and the organization.

Health coaching for employees improves health and well-being.

Health coaching gives participants the motivation and encouragement to start and keep working on health goals. And our research shows that engaging with a health coach is also effective in helping participants actually improve their health by managing and reducing specific health risks, including smoking, lack of exercise, poor sleep, and emotional health.1

Individuals who engage in WebMD Health Services’ health coaching program show a 5 to 6% general risk improvement per year. Specifically, participants engaged in our coaching programs experienced meaningful improvements in:

  • Managing stress and emotional health (+10% improvement)
  • Exercise habits (+13% improvement), and a 13% increase in the average number of minutes exercised
  • Stress risk (+11%)
  • Sleep risk (+7%)
  • Eating habits (+6%), including a 12% increase in fruit and vegetable intake1

And those who are struggling with obesity and commit to working with a health coach have great success with weight loss. Through our Positively Me® program, we’ve seen:

  • Almost 60% of participants lose weight.
  • One out of three participants experience clinically meaningful weight loss.
  • Of those who lost weight, the average percentage of starting weight loss was 5%.1

Health coaching provides support for employees managing chronic conditions.

Six in 10 adults in the U.S. have at least one chronic disease, and four in 10 have two or more. Chronic diseases—like heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and diabetes—are the leading drivers of the nation’s $3.8 trillion in annual healthcare expenditures.2 Yet many of these conditions can be improved and better managed by making healthy lifestyle and behavior choices—which is precisely where a health coach for chronic conditions comes in.

Our experience shows that health coaching that includes a specific focus on condition management (CM) can equip participants with the tools and support they need to make meaningful improvements in their health:

  • After engaging with a health coach, over half of our CM participants moved to a lower acuity (severity) level.
  • CM program participants see improvements in clinical indicators, such as:
    • Increased medication adherence.
    • A1C levels for individuals with diabetes.
    • The use of beta-blockers and other drugs to control high blood pressure.
  • Over the years, we have consistently reported reductions in severity status among CM participants in blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI.
  • Engagement with health coaching leads to reduced hospital stays and emergency room admissions.
    • Upon initial engagement with our coaching program, we found that the expected number of inpatient hospital stays decreased by 21%. For each additional coaching session, it decreased by 8%.
    • Emergency room visits also decreased by 16% after participants first engaged with a health coach. For each additional session, it decreased by 11%.1

External research supports our findings. For example, one study found that participants who received support from a peer health coach showed significant improvements in hemoglobin A1C levels after six months versus individuals who received usual care. Health coaching has also been shown to be effective in reducing “multiple biomarker risk factors (including systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, body weight, body mass index, waist circumference, and cardiorespiratory fitness) in diverse populations.”

All of these findings make sense. Without the help of a coach, someone newly diagnosed with diabetes may need extra support in understanding what kinds of diet modifications to make or how to increase physical activity. A coach can devise a personalized plan of action and schedule regular check-ins to ensure the participant is adhering to clinical recommendations. In addition, our data show that once participants engage with the program, they stick with it: over 96% who engage in CM programs are actively participating six months after their initial call.1

Health coaching empowers people to be actively engaged in their healthcare, resulting in lower costs.

Despite their best intentions, doctors often can’t spend time with patients to answer all of their questions or help them fully understand their treatment plan. This can leave patients feeling confused and unmotivated to actually change their behaviors.

However, participants who work with a health coach become actively engaged and empowered to take control of their health because they have that extra layer of support. Plus, health coaches consider an individual’s lifestyle, responsibilities, time restraints, and habits to make personalized recommendations that someone can realistically implement—like making minor adjustments to what they buy at the grocery store, or relevant ways to get more movement in throughout the day.

And studies show when participants are actively involved in their healthcare experience, they tend to have better outcomes at lower costs. For example, a study conducted by the University of Oregon found that patients who were not actively engaged in their health incurred costs that averaged 8 to 21 percent higher than patients with the highest activation levels.

Our research found that greater immediate savings were driven by improving the health of those with chronic conditions. Cost savings were 4x greater for those with chronic conditions compared to those without chronic conditions.3

Health coaching can increase employee engagement and productivity, and enhance well-being culture.

Health coaching improves employee well-being, which is linked to greater employee engagement in the workplace. Years of research from Gartner found that engagement and well-being are reciprocal, meaning that each influences the future state of the other. Gartner’s research also shows that when engagement and well-being work together, they are “a super-charger for a thriving, productive workplace.”

Health coaching can also increase employee productivity, especially among those managing chronic conditions. Working with a health coach helps improve quality of life—reducing flare-ups or setbacks—which can in turn help improve on-the-job performance. Our study indicates that improving health risks drives improved productivity and decreased time away from work due to health.4 Moreover, because health coaches work with participants to address all aspects of life, including financial wellness and work-life balance, coached employees tend to be less distracted and more productive during the workday.

Finally, when an organization offers health coaches, it signals that well-being is a corporate priority. This positively impacts the retention of current employees and can be a significant factor in attracting new employees to the organization. This is especially important today as candidates seek out employers who offer holistic well-being support.

Adding the services of health coaches to your well-being program can help participants make tangible improvements in their health based on their own interests and goals. Health coaching also helps to reduce current and future health risks and lends support to those managing costly chronic conditions. Additionally, the presence of health coaches in an organization strengthens the culture of well-being and contributes to improved employee morale and productivity. If you’re interested in setting up a program for your organization that includes dedicated health coaches, visit our website or contact us at connect@webmd.net.

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