Shane Kinkennon by Shane Kinkennon

ACE finds itself at an interesting inflection point in the growth of health coaching. We’re both celebrating a fantastic recent development for the fledgling field and addressing a need to make the case for an optimally inclusive, wise way forward.

Cool-development alert! In July, the American Medical Association (AMA) placed health coaching on the first stepping stone of a path to someday become integral to clinical care. What the AMA did was assign to “health and well-being coaching” a “CPT code,” which is a recognized medical code used to report health procedures to health insurers, other physicians, etc.

The code the AMA assigned is a “Category III” code,” which is a temporary code for services that are emerging. It lays the foundation for data collection and broader assessment of efficacy… and possible future assignment of a CPT code that could allow for health coaching to be widely prescribed, delivered and reimbursed. (You can find the new code on page 15 of this AMA-explanation document.)

ACE has long believed that behavior-change interventions delivered beyond clinic walls by well-qualified, properly credentialed practitioners (think health coaches) should someday be an integral extension of patient care. So the assignment of a CPT code for health coaching is a positively huge deal.

And remember, ACE offers the only health-coaching certification accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). That certification is entirely separate from the exercise-professional certifications that ACE offers.

By the way, we’re feeling lots of gratitude to our allies in the health-coaching world for helping the field get to this moment, organizations like the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching. And to the AMA’s CPT Editorial Committee for taking this crucial step.


Inadvertent exclusion

As the process goes, along with assignment of the CPT code, the AMA assigned a definition to the “Health and Well-Being Coach” – those practitioners who can benefit from use of the CPT code. Unfortunately, an important category of well-qualified health coaches was omitted from that definition. Those are the holders of health-coaching certifications from programs that are accredited by the two most known and respected third-party accreditors for health professions. I’m specifically referring to the NCCA and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Who is included in the CPT code are those individuals who have passed the NBHWC’s Health & Wellness Coach Certifying Examination, which requires completion of an NBHWC-approved education program. And those individuals certified by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC), which is the credentialing body for health educators. (NCHEC also is a friend to ACE.)

Interestingly, the NCHEC credential also is a voluntary, NCCA-accredited certification just like the ACE Health Coach certification. But omitted from the new CPT code definition for health and well-being coaching are the more than 7,000 ACE Certified Health Coaches. To me, considering the aim of all of this, that just doesn’t make sense.


What we believe

If the right systems, structures and incentives ever arrange so that health coaching interventions could really join patient practice, the sense among health-coaching advocates like ACE is that it’ll make a profound impact on patient outcomes. Health coaches don’t direct or prescribe but instead empower and motivate. They utilize techniques born first and foremost in behavior-change science. They help patients discover their own internal barriers to healthier choices, set stepwise health goals, devise their own creative approaches to reaching those goal, and tap their own internal motivations to do the work necessary. Early studies show it really, really works.

So what’s needed is more health coaches who are well-qualified, properly credentialed, and adequately situated to work and contribute. Let’s put all who are ready and who hold trusted, verifiable credentials in a position to add to the growing body of data on the efficacy of the field and set the table for positively impacting more lives.


What’s next

There is a published process for submitting a formal request to the AMA to revise a CPT code. ACE will follow that process to the letter during the next window of opportunity.

Pursuit of revision to CPT code is fairly new territory for ACE, candidly. But on the other hand, we are quite practiced at making the case for recognition of credentials such as those ACE certifications that are validated by trusted third-party accreditors. And we are relentless advocates for ACE Certified Professionals, including our wonderful ACE Certified Health Coaches.

And one of the reasons I love working for ACE is that we are collaborators to our very core. So in the coming months, we seek to engage honestly and work openly with those entities whose health coaching certificants are included already in the new CPT code. And other stakeholders who have an interest in this topic.

We believe we all share the same goal, which is establishment and maturation of this crucial field. And what a fine moment this is for those who share that goal.