Health Coaching: What is it exactly?

Palmer et al defined health coaching as: The practice of health education and health promotion within a coaching context, to enhance the wellbeing of individuals and to facilitate the achievement of their health-related goals (1).

The American Academy of Family Physicians put it more simply: A health coach is a person that helps patients gain the knowledge, skills, tools and confidence to take part in their own care and reach their self-identified health goals (2).

“Give a man fish, he has food for a day. Teach a man to fish and he has food for a lifetime”.
From Wolever et al: The actual coaching process entails goal-setting determined by the patient, encourages self-discovery in addition to content education, and incorporates mechanisms for developing accountability in health behaviours. Coaching occurs in the context of a consistent, ongoing relationship with a human coach who is trained in specific behaviour change, communication, and motivational skills (3).
Roles of a Health Coach as defined by the American Academy of Family Physicians (2):
Self-management support
  • Providing information
  • Teaching disease-specific skills
  • Promoting behaviour change
  • Imparting problem-solving skills
  • Assisting with the emotional impact of chronic illness
  • Encouraging follow up
  • Encouraging participation
Bridge between clinician and patient 
  • Serving as the patient’s liaison
  • Ensuring that patient understands and agrees with care plan
  • Providing cultural and language-concordance
Navigation of the health care system 
  • Connecting the patient with resources
  • Facilitating support
  • Empowering the patient
  • Ensuring the patient’s voice is heard
Emotional support 
  • Showing interest
  • Inquiring about emotional issues
  • Showing compassion
  • Teaching coping skills
  1. Palmer S, Tubbs I, Whybrow A. Health coaching to facilitate the promotion of healthy behaviour and achievement of health-related goals. Int J Health Promotion Educ. 2003;41(3):91–3.
  2. American Academy of Family Physicians. Health Coaching for Patients With Chronic Illness [Internet]. [cited 25th October 2018]. Available from:
  3. Wolever RQ, Simmons LA, Sforzo GA, et al. A Systematic Review of the Literature on Health and Wellness Coaching: Defining a Key Behavioral intervention in Healthcare. Glob Adv Health Med. 2013;2(4):38-57.


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