Goshen News, Goshen, IN

October 20, 2013

WHOLE FAMILY: America could benefit from health coaches

Goshen News

---- — I know what everyone needs. No, I really do! With so much upheaval in U.S. healthcare — all the talks about paying for it, who should provide what kinds of services, how sick people are, on and on — it makes complete sense.

People need a health coach. Everyone does. Everyone needs a health coach.

Think about it with me. Let’s start by going back 113 years.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading causes of death 113 years ago were influenza and pneumonia. Basically, in 1900, people picked up a “bug,” harbored an ensuing respiratory infection, and died from it.

In 2013, we are better at prevention and treatment of infections, so while influenza and pneumonia still kill people — No. 9 of top 10 causes of death in the U.S. — they’re not what cause the majority of U.S. deaths.

Today we’re dying of heart disease. Heart disease also accounted for the most U.S. deaths in 1950, by the way. Data from 2010 showed heart disease, followed relatively closely by cancers, killed more people in the U.S. than other illnesses.

And while heart disease has a genetic component, heart disease is a condition very often brought on by lifestyle.

Heart disease and its attending troubles are, unequivocally, related to what I’m dubbing the great health trifecta: diet, exercise and stress/environment.

Hang on to that thought.

Back to 1900 and, eventually, getting to health coaches. One hundred thirteen years ago, people died from preventable and treatable ailments. Today, though the ailments are different ones, we’re still dying from often preventable and treatable ailments.

Something is wrong.

At least one of the problems is many of us do not address our health until we are unhealthy. Consider: Many of us had regular “well visits” into our teen-age years. Our parents probably took us to a family doc, maybe a pediatrician. But then, probably in our older teens, we fell off the well-visit wagon and did not see a healthcare provider unless we were sick. In general, if you think about it, many people do not see a healthcare provider until they are sick, sometimes very sick.

And that is not HEALTH care. That’s SICK care.

I know some of us manage to get to the doctor or the nurse practitioner or the midwife or whomever on a fairly regular basis, but what do we get most times? A height and weight check, maybe a blood draw or other lab test, maybe a prescription, a few words of wisdom, and we’re out the door till next year.

It’s just the way U.S. healthcare is set up.

I say what’s missing is your health coach, the one who helps you develop your health-and-wellness strategy for life years before you’re sick and need healthcare services that really should be called “sick-care services” anyway.

Let’s dream: At some point in your life — probably those late teen years — you get a wellness coach. This person is clinically competent and has education and training not only in “medicine” but in coaching itself, in how to help people develop and maintain goals and strategies.

(There’s an art and science to coaching itself, by the way. Not just anybody can do it.)

You and this coach meet on a regular basis and come up with a wellness plan for you. The plan would take into account all of your uniqueness — body type, genetic factors, predispositions, preferences, socioeconomic status, health history, etc. — to develop goals for you.

The main goal would be easy: optimal health. But you might have additional health-related goals, like attaining a certain fitness level or running a marathon, becoming pregnant or avoiding something genetics has all but guaranteed you. Maybe you do start out sick, and your coach is qualified to help sick people too.

Here’s where it gets fun. You and your coach develop strategies to get you well or keep you well and to help your body run like the well-fish-oiled machine it can be. For many people, these strategies would be pretty easy to write. Because … remember the great health trifecta? Yep, diet, exercise and stress/environment. It’s really not, as they say, rocket science, though science is important.

Throw in judicious use of some “medical” interventions like pharmaceuticals or treatments and surgeries and you probably could come up with a great plan that suits your life.

I know greater minds than mine have already thought of the health coach, but when I started looking at how a nurse might expand her services into this discipline, I did not find much. A few certification programs, some of them dubious, and no real place for the coach to “practice” in the present sickness-care model.

It’s like even though the wellness coach is a great idea and some people are doing it — and probably saves gobs of money and thousands of lives — our allopathic medicinal mindset can’t quite swing it: “What? People having ‘wellness’ plans versus ‘treatment’ plans? Don’t know about that.”

Without opening a can of worms, it’s worth noting the healthcare — er, sickness-care — industry does not benefit from well people but from sick people.

So would you like one? A health coach? Because I think with a little more education, training and strategy of my own, I would like to be one one day.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”

Sources http://www.livescience.com/21213-leading-causes-of-death-in-the-u-s-since-1900-infographic.html http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm