Health Coach

What Is It?
How Does It Work?
What You Can Expect

Health Benefits
How to Choose a Practitioner



Evidence Based Rating System

What Is It?

Health coaches are trained to help create personalized programs to help participants reach short or long-term fitness goals. Health coaches offer personal health care plans that meet participants’ unique needs as their health needs change.

Coaches help people meet specific goals – smoking cessation, weight loss, increasing exercise, or stress reduction. The participant sets the goals, and the coach provides support and holds the participant accountable to meet these goals.

 How Does It Work?

Depending on the program in which you enroll, you may see your coach one-on-one, or you may have e-mail or telephone contact. Your coach will help you create a personalized health plan, helping you focus on your health vision as well as your long-term goals and the steps you need to take to reach those goals. (1, 2) Your coach is there to support you at regularly scheduled times, to help you fine-tune your health plan and help you achieve your goals.

Health coach hotlines may also be available to offer guidance on chronic conditions, such as asthma or diabetes. (3)

What You Can Expect

Here is what a health coach does: 

  • Provides health education and health promotion within a coaching context to enhance people’s individual well being and to achieve health-related goals (4)
  • Helps the participant identify a problem, goal, or issue that they would like to change (5)
  • Listen reflectively, to identify underlying concerns (5)
  • Summarize the concerns, and work with the person to create a strategy to deal with them (5)

When you make an initial appointment with a health coach, you should expect to talk about your health hopes and goals. Some health coaches make phone appointments, to allow people to call at a specified time to check in. The focus should be on improving quality of life, not on fixing a particular physical or emotional image. (2)

You do not need to have a major health problem in order to see a health coach. Perhaps you want to run a marathon, and need the inspiration and accountability of someone to help you stick with the training. Or, you might need to modify your lifestyle in order to deal with a serious health issue – like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or too much stress.

Once you have developed a plan with your health coach, you will wish to stay in touch with follow-up sessions. Your coach should be able to help you develop strategies to enhance your personal accountability or to explore creative options. (1) Follow-up sessions may be in person or over the telephone at specific times.

Health Benefits

Health coaches have been able to help people change their behavior in diet, to improve exercise, and to reduce heart health risks.

Various studies of health coaches show that the technique helps people focus on their goals. The Penn State Ambulatory Network found that adding an on-site health coach trained in motivational techniques led to 48% of 92 patients in the study changing their behavior in eating habits, physical activity, or both. (6) In a recent study by Bodenheimer, a new model of primary care suggests the use of two health coaches to assist a doctor during primary health care visits. In this proposed model, patients would have a 4-part visit: a pre-visit with the coach, a visit with the doctor and the coach, a post-visit with the coach, and between-visit care from the coach. (7) Unfortunately, this description of the team led model does not provide a clinical study of efficacy.

Health coaching shows some promise in improving behaviors that affect heart health. In a large study of 792 patients with coronary heart disease, patients being discharged from hospital were randomized to usual care plus a coaching program (the coaches were four nurses and two dietitians) or just usual care. The patients who were provided with the additional coaching program showed a greater improvement in the total cholesterol six months after baseline. The additional coach care group had a reduction in total cholesterol of 14mg/dL vs. 7 mg/dL in the usual care group. Coaching produced substantial benefits in other coronary risk factors, as well as in the patients’ quality of life. (8)

Additional studies of health coaching may provide more insight on its general benefits to the population.

How to Choose a Practitioner

People who are choosing a practitioner should look for people with experience who have affiliations with their health practice or with a holistic integrative medicine program. Some health plans and employers provide a staff of trained, prepaid telephone or in-person health coaches to provide services as part of employee benefit plans for reducing health risks or managing certain chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. Many health coaches have degrees in health and fitness related fields. Some have taken additional training for continuing education credits, and some are nurses who have had additional training to allow them to become better at a patient-focused approach.

There are health coach certifications:

  • Health and Fitness Coach Certification for Wellcoaches, Health Coach Certification (1-830-377-4925)

  • Integrative Health Coaching Professional Training Program, Duke Integrative Medicine (1-866-313-0959)

When interviewing a health coach, ask for information on their training, whether or not they have continued with education after starting practice, and what their affiliations are (integrative medicine group, nursing practice, hospital, or clinic).


A health coach is not a physician. If you have a serious health risk, you should ask your physician if a health coach is right for you.

Further studies on the efficacy of health coaches need to be done, however, the use of a health coach to provide a strategy may still be useful for people who need focus in their health or exercise plan.


1. Duke Integrative Medicine. Health Coaching. Duke Integrative Medicine Web page. Available at:
2. Personal Health Goals: FAQs. website. Available at:
3. Health Coach Hot Line. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Web page. Available at:
4. Palmer S, Tubbs I, Whybrow A. Health coaching to facilitate the promotion of healthy behavior and achievement of health related goals. Int J Health Promotion Ed. 2003;41(3):91-93.
5. Huffman M. Health coaching: a new and exciting technique to enhance patient self-management and improve outcomes. Home Healthcare Nurse. 2007 Apr;25(4):271-274.
6. Adelman AM, Graybill M. Integrating a health coach into primary care: reflections from the Penn State Ambulatory Research Network. Ann Fam Med. 2005;3(Suppl 2):S33-S35.
7. Bodenheimer T, Laing BY. The teamlet model of primary care. Ann Fam Med. 2007;5:457-461.
8. Vale MJ, Jelnick MV, Best JD, et al. Coaching patients on achieving cardiovascular health (COACH). Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:2775-2783.

Evidence Based Rating Scale 

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.







High cholesterol







Widely used for risk factor reduction. More studies are needed. 



Physical activity





Patients have found health coaches to be helpful.




Weight management 




May be helpful for people to strategize a weight plan.

Date Published: 10/20/2008
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