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When the Coach is In, Everyone Wins

5 Keys to Wellness Coaching Success

We live in an era in which healthcare costs are having a significant impact on corporations, insurers and individuals alike. With 50% of Americans living with one or more chronic illnesses, the cost of treating medical conditions accounts for more than 75% of the $2 trillion spent annually on health care in the U.S.1 The need to better manage conditions and focus on preventative care could not be greater. Enter wellness programs

Wellness programs are uniquely poised to play a pivotal role in the effort to change how we look at health and wellness. These programs come in many shapes and sizes and with good reason—each organization and each individual has unique needs. However, there is one element that we know to directly improve the effectiveness of a wellness program—health and wellness coaching.

Effective coaching can inspire change by giving people the resources, support and accountability they need to make truly lasting changes.

How Coaching Helps

The value of coaching is leveraged in many aspects of our society. Perhaps the most obvious example is in the world of sports. What would an NBA team be without its coaching staff? Personal trainers, financial coaches, workplace mentors and even teachers are all examples of coaching at work. It only stands to reason, then, that this proven approach to results be leveraged in the world of wellness. Effective coaching can inspire change by giving people the resources, support and accountability they need to make truly lasting changes. It can also enhance wellness in the workplace and improve wellness program ROI. At WebMD, we have seen firsthand the impact of our health coaches. Across our Book of Business, 70% of people eliminated at least one modifiable risk factor thanks to our coaches.2

The Essential Ingredients

While each coaching program is and should be unique, there are five elements that will directly impact the effectiveness of a coaching program. These are as follows:

1. Leadership Support

From the top down, coaching needs to be positioned as an important initiative. Companies should cultivate executive champions, allow leaders to play a visible wellness role and recognize departments that meet wellness goals.

2. Communication, Communication, Communication

When it comes to coaching (and wellness programs overall), erring on the side of over-communication is better than under-communicating. Delivering personalized and motivating messages to employees is a must. Our clients who have used a proactive, outbound communications approach saw dramatically higher coaching engagement rates compared to those who relied on inbound communications alone. It is important to note here that the timeliness of all communications also matters greatly. Offering people the ability to self-schedule a coaching session upon completing a health assessment or otherwise becoming aware of a health risk, for example, capitalizes on these important moments and can increase engagement.

3. Quality Coaching Staff

Not just anyone can be a wellness coach. It takes specialized training and experience to be able to unravel the often complex health care issues people face and to motivate positive changes. At WebMD, all of our coaches are our direct employees and 100% of them have at least an undergraduate degree in a health science field with nationally recognized certification and motivational interview training. Many have additional advanced education, training or certifications.

4. Incentives

Even someone who wants to make a change can find it hard to take that first step. Offering incentives can give people that little extra “boost” that may just make the difference between them doing something good for themselves or not.

5. Trust

All of the above four elements are instrumental in creating trust in a coaching program. In addition, employees should be well informed about the privacy and security of their personal information and work with coaches. Once a coaching program is rolled out and well underway, sponsors should be prepared to remain active with communications and other aspects that can keep the effort fresh and innovative. Incorporating new technologies or ways of connecting with a coach, for example, can be part of a planned coaching program evolution. Changing the incentives that are available is yet another way to do this. Finally, as with any important effort, measuring the results and using that data to refine a coaching program should be considered as much a part of the program as an actual coaching interaction. When collecting metrics, feedback from employees and coaches alike should be included along with data about changes in health risks or conditions.

Making Wellness Work

Making wellness work takes work. By offering wellness programs, employers take an important first step in improving the lives of their employees. Maintaining the commitment through efforts like communications, incentives and more is what often separates the programs that deliver outstanding success from those that don’t. At WebMD, we pride ourselves on working with our clients to support the creation and ongoing delivery of wellness at work.


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