Strong relationships can help older adults stay active and healthy, according to a paper published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. Public health researchers at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa found that individual and interpersonal factors had the greatest association with meeting physical activity guidelines as a measure of health.

Study authors cite the significance of the results because they reinforce the importance relationships have on influencing positive health behaviors, including physical activity, among the Medicare Advantage (MA) population. The authors believe their findings can be used to inform health approaches and interventions targeting older adults. 

The authors do advise staying aware of the importance of social relationships and maintaining physical activity for MA members to reduce chronic disease and premature death, especially in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social isolation increases the risk of depression, cognitive decline, and other poor health outcomes. 

In traditional, volume-based care models, payers have few options for relationally supporting MA members, making it hard to achieve the outcomes mentioned in this study. They are left to hope that the member’s support system of family and friends will encourage the right choices, because the short primary care and specialist visits in a volume-based model do not allow the member the time and consistency they need to develop trusted relationships with their provider.

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How health coaches build trust and relationship 

An advanced primary care  (APC) model offers payers a proven method to impact member health through embedded health coaching. 

Having a health coach can make a critical difference for MA populations. They are often isolated, with fewer social connections or social support systems. They may have needlessly resigned themselves to living with their chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. A health coach can be the support these members need.

Effective health coaching requires trust and a strong relationship between the member and the coach. Health coaches build this relationship by listening to member needs and concerns, demonstrating empathy for a member’s specific situation, and walking alongside them as they take ownership of their own health goals.

The entire member-coach relationship is built upon an important fact: health issues never exist in a vacuum. They’re influenced by numerous bio, psycho, and social factors. Health coaches use their expertise to expand the conversation beyond immediate health issues so that members can begin to understand all of the factors that contribute to their whole health and begin to make changes that will help them live healthier lives physically, mentally, and socially.

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How the member-coach relationship improves outcomes

With a strong foundation of trust and relationship, health coaches meet members wherever they are in their health journey. Vera whole health coaches utilize the transtheoretical model to drive behavior change that leads to sustainable lifestyle changes and the ultimate goal of personal self-efficacy.

To understand how the member-coach relationship creates behavior change, it’s important to understand the two main components of the transtheoretical model: 

  1. Stages of change — The place where a member is on their health journey, including precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance
  2. Processes of change — Common cognitive and behavioral processes members use to move between stages. 

Vera health coaches partner with providers and the rest of the care team to guide members through each stage of change so that they feel supported and confident in taking control of their own health. Because of their relationship with members, they’re able to assess the member’s readiness and motivation for change, as well as which process the member favors. With this established, they can build on that knowledge to encourage behavior change. 

Using this process, members make and sustain the changes that support lifelong health. Getting healthier and staying that way takes more than a good diet and regular exercise. Better habits require fundamental changes in thinking, behavior, and engagement with psychosocial and emotional factors. Whole health, regardless of member age, is improved with a supportive relationship-driven partnership that a health coach provides.

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APC with embedded health coaches builds competitive advantage for payers

Payers looking to improve their market position and better serve MA populations should consider implementing an APC model that includes health coaching. Health coaches are ideally suited to build strong relationships with MA members. And these supportive relationships empower members to change their behavior and improve their health outcomes. 

To learn more about the impact of health coaching on health outcomes, download our eBook: Sick Care Is Doomed To Failure: How Behavior Change Transforms Primary Care.

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