Karen Nathan by Karen Nathan

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases and conditions—such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and arthritis—are among the most common, costly and preventable health problems. As of 2012 (the most recent data available), about half of all U.S. adults—117 million people—had one or more chronic health conditions. One in four adults had two or more chronic health conditions.

It is no surprise, then, that many of the clients you are likely to see for coaching have already been diagnosed with a health condition, particularly obesity, hypertension and/or type 2 diabetes. Comorbidities associated with obesity present both challenges and opportunities.

Here are some tips and strategies for coaching people with specific health conditions:

Learn as much as you can about your client’s specific health condition.

  • Strengthen the coach-client bond and develop a sense of trust by demonstrating your knowledge about a client’s specific health condition.
  • Your clients are likely to talk about their cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar, so it is important to know what normal values are. You can rely on guidelines from trusted resources such as the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association. Also consider attending relevant professional education lectures at your local hospital.
  • If your client is newly diagnosed, you can help with his or her education about the condition. You can point to local support groups or share literature from well-regarded, evidence-based sources.

Stay within your scope of practice but be a team player.

  • Caring for someone with a serious health condition is both complex and difficult. It’s up to the licensed medical professional to diagnose, treat and prescribe. Yet, there’s still plenty for the health coach to do.
  • Keep in mind that physicians have limited time and are rarely trained in motivational techniques. Their approach to moving patients toward a healthier lifestyle is often more directive. Physicians are often eager to pass the baton to a health coach so he or she can focus on motivation and accountability.

Be a dependable resource to patients and healthcare providers.

  • Clients may need help getting connected to a specialist, and you are in a position to offer a referral recommendation. It’s helpful to become familiar with the well-regarded specialists in your area. Don’t be shy about attending events at your local hospital, mailing a well-crafted letter to a specific doctor, or asking to meet with the practice manager.
  • Once the specialist receives positive feedback from patients about your work as a health coach, don’t be surprised if he or she starts sending patients directly to you.

Focus on core coaching competencies, regardless of your client’s special health condition.

  • Initiating and sustaining health behavior change is your client’s ultimate challenge. As a health coach, you are in a unique position to help your clients expand their capacity to cope with the demands of their conditions, no matter what they are.
  • Your clients don’t get to take a vacation from their health conditions. A person with diabetes, for example, cannot simply decide to ignore blood glucose control for a few weeks without negative health consequences. Part of being a highly effective coach is to help your client build self-management skills.

Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and kidney disease are common conditions, yet still complex and difficult to manage. Remember to stay within your scope of practice, but also create a niche for yourself by becoming a trusted member of the healthcare team.

Learn more about becoming an ACE-certified health coach.