AHP conference 2016: Physio ‘health coaching’ trainers say their programme empowers patients

‘Health coaching’ can improve the motivation of patients to take responsibility for their own health.


Clinians trained in health coaching can help people self-manage long-term conditions

That was the message from Trudi Dunn and Nina Finlay, health coaching trainers and clinical specialist physiotherapists at West Suffolk NHS Trust.

Speaking at the chief allied health professions officer’s conference in London on 23 June, they told delegates that all the clinicians who had been trained in health coaching agreed that it would be useful when working with people with long-term conditions. And all the trainees agreed that it would encourage greater responsibility and self-management among patients.

In addition, Ms Dunn said there had been benefits to the trust, with improved quality of care, reduced follow ups, and a reduction in complaints. She added that there also seemed to be an improvement in health outcomes and costs.

‘Defining health coaching is tricky as there is no unified, agreed definition,’ said Ms Dunn. ‘But it has been described as talking to people with long-term conditions in a way that supports and empowers them to better manage their own care, fulfil their self-identified health goals, improve their quality of life and move away from a dependent model of care.’

Long-term conditions

She said long-term conditions accounted for 50 per cent of GP appointments, 70 per cent of in-patient bed days and 70 per cent of NHS total spend. And there is growing evidence that clinicians’ current approach with patients isn’t working.

‘Our current system is paternalistic, authoritarian and expert driven. And while that’s fantastically effective and efficient when patients are acutely unwell, we know that in the long term it can foster dependency.

‘So we need to be talking differently, and this is what health coaching is about.’

Engage commissioners

In the experience of the two physios, who are among 20 accredited health coaching trainers at the trust, for health coaching to be successful clinicians must recognise that they need to change their behaviour.

‘It requires complex interpersonal skills, and it can be very difficult to incorporate something new into an already pressured environment,’ said Ms Finlay. ‘And it is difficult to use a coaching approach if those around you are not.’

Her tips for introducing health coaching training programmes were to write a business case, and make sure it aligns with your local strategy; engage your local commissioners; make friends with your local training team; get administrative support and protected time up front; and work in pairs.

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