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Health coaches can help reduce hospital visits, care costs

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Employees with chronic health conditions like diabetes could make fewer trips to the emergency room if someone would check in with them every couple of weeks to make sure they’re taking care of themselves.

That’s why UPS, Temple University and many more U.S. employers are enlisting “health coaches” to form relationships with employees who need help managing their medical problems.

A University of Colorado study found that patients who work with health coaches were less likely to return to the emergency room within six months after an initial ER visit. That savings alone runs about $845 per patient.

Likewise, Independence Blue Cross reported that employers who use health coaches provided through its Connections Health Management program lowered medical costs by about 2 percent the first year.

Health coaches typically are nurses, dieticians, respiratory therapists or other health specialists who make regular phone calls to their patients to talk about their health.

Like a personal trainer, coaches recommend dietary and lifestyle changes, encourage patients to schedule regular physicals, answer client questions and explain doctors’ instructions or test results.

People who understand their health needs and receive reminders about refilling prescriptions or keeping doctor’s appointments, the data suggest, are less likely to suffer expensive health emergencies.

By the end of this year, 54 percent of the largest U.S. employers will make health coaches available to employees, according to a survey by the National Business Group on Health and consulting firm Watson Wyatt.  

Examples: UPS contracts with dozens of registered nurses to use claims data to identify and contact employees with chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes.

This year, UPS will expand the program so employees can sign up on their own. Temple University offers telephone health coaching to any employee or student who chooses to call the 24-hour-a-day service.

Experts say coaching is effective because it helps patients take control of their own health. For more advice on using health coaches in the most effective manner, see the tips in the box below.  

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