Specially trained nurses serve as patient advocates
By Debra Anderson, RN, BSN
Nurses often play the unofficial role of coach, offering encouragement to patients just when they need it. Some nurses, however, have specific roles, training and experience as health coaches. At ProHealth Care, 10 nurses are health coaches for at-risk patients.
Health coaches serve as educators and advocates, working one-on-one with patients who have three or more chronic health conditions. They help patients understand how to manage their conditions, and they connect patients to health care and community resources to prevent complications and hospitalizations.
Patients who have interrelated chronic conditions — for example, obesity, diabetes and hypertension — need to closely follow instructions from their primary care providers to maintain and improve their health. Health coaches are an important bridge between these patients and their providers. Their knowledge ensures that they have an in-depth understanding of patient concerns, complex health conditions, treatments and medications, as well as how the health care system functions.
The coaches also work closely with primary care providers to understand health care recommendations for the patients they coach and to discuss any changes in a patient’s health care needs, status and treatment. They know when patients need checkups, blood tests and flu shots, for example.
Along with their nursing experience and education, health coaches are trained in motivational interviewing. Much of the time they spend with patients — whether in person or on the phone — is focused on listening to patients, identifying the obstacles that may prevent them from taking care of their health and developing a mutually agreed upon plan of care.
By developing strong relationships with patients, health coaches become a consistent connection to care over the long term. They translate health care instructions, medical tests and terminology, and provide information about healthy lifestyles, home safety, and how to access medical, Medicare and other resources.
The demand for health coaches is rising rapidly as more health care providers work with coaches, seeing the value they bring to patients and the ways they enhance health care efficacy and efficiency. Many patients with chronic conditions can avoid health care crises — and unneeded costs — by following health care instructions. Historically, health professionals didn’t always focus on ways to lower the barriers that kept some at-risk patients from following through. We now know that advocates like health coaches can significantly impact patient behavior through problem-solving and motivation.
Health coaches are making a critical difference in the lives of individuals with chronic illnesses. To learn about nursing opportunities that allow you to make a difference in your community, visit ProHealthCare.org/Careers or call 262-928-7675.
Debra Anderson, RN, BSN, is the health coach manager for ProHealth Care. She has 19 years of experience as a registered nurse and helped launch the ProHealth health coach program.
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For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.