Health coaches help patients make better care decisions

Doctor patient

Patients who understand their care options and other relevant medical information are more likely to make good choices with their healthcare, making the advice and expertise of patient navigators critical.

One strategy, the Patient Support Corps, which launched at the Breast Care Center at the University of California, San Francisco, trains student interns to serve as health coaches, joining patients at appointments to ensure that all their questions are answered by doctors, according to an article from Harvard Business Review, written by the program’s founder, Jeff Belkora. These interns, many of whom are pre-med majors, remain neutral on treatment options and personal healthcare goals, but also ensure that patients are active participants in directing their care.

The Patient Support Corps has spread to other healthcare facilities as well, according to the article. The coaches use a five-step framework for decision-making, called SCOPED:

  • Situation: Ensure that the patient is aware of known, key facts about his or her condition
  • Choices: Explain and fully define the available care options
  • Objectives: Have a full understanding of the patient’s care goals and priorities
  • People: Understand the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in the patient’s care
  • Evaluation: Go through how care options will impact the patient’s health goals
  • Decision: Choose the best option that aligns with care goals and move to next steps

“In dozens of studies that we and others have conducted involving thousands of patients, the benefits of SCOPED and related coaching strategies are twofold: they increase patient knowledge, the number of questions they ask and their satisfaction, and they decrease patient distress, anxiety, decision-related conflict and regret,” Belkora writes in the HBR piece.

The interns also benefit from the program, according to the article. When one intern was faced with complex medical decisions after a cardiac arrest, she found that she, too, was armed with better health decision-making tools.