Health Coaches: Filling Gaps In Healthcare, One Client At A Time

March 28, 2023   |   Health Coach

Health coaches are filling gaps in patient care by helping clients make healthy behavior changes. Read how Kasia Smith, head of health coaching at Pillar, is at the forefront of supporting health coaches to improve the continuum of care in the U.S. 

Anyone who’s tried to follow a doctor’s recommendations to lose weight or increase physical activity can attest that behavior change is hard. Improving health requires an overall plan, incremental steps and support. 

Even with the best intentions, a physician typically doesn’t have time to nurture patients along a continuous care journey. Health and wellness coaches can fill this gap in the healthcare system, helping patients reach their goals.


Health coaches as part of the broader care team

Health coaching is emerging as a best practice in innovative care models. Coaches can translate physicians’ clinical recommendations into achievable plans. They provide accountability and recalibration so clients are more likely to reach their goals. 

Kasia Smith is head of health coaching at Pillar, a B2B care management platform that provides a vetted white-labeled provider workforce to deliver care management and health coaching to customers.

Watch an episode of Let’s Cover That podcast featuring Smith to learn more about Pillar. 

Smith says coaches can act as extensions of a broader care team because they have more time to answer questions and provide health education. The clinician shortage in the U.S. creates an opportunity for health coaches to step in and allow physicians to operate at the top of their licenses. “There’s a kind of harmony where physicians can hand a patient off to a health coach on the team to go deeper and identify obstacles and potential solutions to reduce friction and help individuals adhere to care plans,” says Smith.

Concierge physicians are adding health coaches to their care teams. Hospital networks refer patients to health coaches to reach wellness goals, and payers bring health coaches in-house to support members.


What is health coaching?

A health coach builds a one-to-one relationship with each client to help individuals reach personal health goals.

Coaches are trained in behavior change. They use frameworks like positive psychology and goal setting to help clients navigate health challenges. Together, coaches and clients identify small action steps that lead to improving overall health and well-being. 

Following are some common goals health coaches help clients achieve:

  • Increasing physical activity
  • Improving diet and nutrition
  • Managing symptoms of chronic conditions
  • Shopping, meal planning and cooking at home
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Improving sleep quality 
  • Improving symptoms of menopause 

In 2017 the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC) created a national gold standard for health coaching in partnership with the National Board for Medical Examiners (NBME). The goal was to standardize training, education and assessment standards for coaches. More than 8,400 National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coaches hold the credential.


Who is becoming a health coach today?


Health coaching is a growing profession that’s attracting individuals from diverse backgrounds. In an October 2022 survey of 1000 health and wellness coaches from Pillar and USF Health, 91.2% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Some pursue a master’s degree in health and wellness coaching, with new programs offered at academic institutions like University of North Texas and the Maryland University of Integrative Health. 

Many health coaches enter the profession as a second or third career, often after facing burnout or experiencing a significant health challenge, personally or with a loved one. Smith expects to see the number of health coaches continue to rise. “As more academic institutions offer health and wellness coaching programs, we can expect to see an increasing number of individuals pursuing this career path,” says Smith.


Where health coaching is headed


Health coaching continues to evolve as digital health technology advances, says Smith. There’s a strong push for precision nutrition as wearables increase in popularity and precision medicine and genomic testing advance. “Having precise insights into the best foods for a person’s composition and epigenetic makeup, combined with personalized health coaching, can help individuals unlock massive health improvements,” says Smith.  

Smith is also seeing a growing movement in culinary coaching – helping individuals learn to cook at home or supporting a client’s transition to a low-glycemic or plant-based diet. 

As awareness grows among clinicians and more insurance companies provide reimbursement for health and wellness coaching services, Smith anticipates seeing more coaches embedded in healthcare settings.

She hopes this growth will pull from a more diverse field of coaches. In Pillar’s survey of 1000 coaches, 91.6% identified as women and 79.4% identified as white.

“We think representation in healthcare is so important, and we want to move the needle to be more demonstrative of the general population,” says Smith.


4 tips to become a health coach


  1. Before opening a health coaching practice, Smith recommends training from a program approved by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching, like the one she did at Emory University. Health coach training programs include hybrid approaches with in-person and remote learning. Institutions of higher education like Emory offer coaching programs, as well as online-based programs from organizations like Mayo Clinic.
  2. The hardest part of opening a new health coaching practice is acquiring new patients. Smith recommends connecting with prospects in your local community and spreading the word among friends. From there, contacting local businesses and clinical practices that might be good referral sources is essential. 
  3. Smith says having a mentor and finding opportunities to practice techniques are crucial to growing and succeeding in the field. At Pillar, they offer “triads” where one individual is the coach, another acts as the client and a third observes. They have a discussion and provide feedback.
  4. Finally, getting professional liability insurance insurance is essential before opening a new health coaching practice. At CM&F, we offer easy and affordable malpractice insurance for health and wellness groups.  

Click here to learn more about health and wellness liability insurance tailored to your practice needs. By protecting your assets, license and reputation, CM&F’s superior professional liability insurance brings peace of mind to health coaches.


Kasia Smith is a national board-certified health coach, published researcher, and former insurance professional who currently leads Network Management and Health Coaching at Pillar.

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