New health professionals enhance employee wellness, patient navigation

Hospitals increasingly are adding new types of health professionals to their care teams, hiring more health coaches to help their own employees improve health and wellness and child life specialists to help sick children and their families navigate the healthcare system.

Chronic conditions are moving toward crisis proportions and using up substantial healthcare dollars, prompting hospitals like Providence Alaska Medical Center to add health coaches to its ranks, reported Kaiser Health News.

Thanks to coaches promoting healthy behaviors, such as getting adequate exercise and managing stress, the number of obese hospitals workers fell from 36 percent in 2009 to 32 percent in 2011, according to the article. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels also dropped.

Meanwhile, another health professional, the child life specialist, is gaining popularity at hospitals, especially in hospital acute units, according to another KHN article with NPR.

The industry has roughly 4,000 child life specialists nationwide, with 16 employed at Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C., who help children and their parents cope with the stresses of hospitalization, the article noted.

While each visit with a child life specialist saves the surgical team's less than five minutes, the time in the aggregate can add up to that team performing an extra surgery a day. However, time savings don't come free. The child life specialists at Children's National add about $800,000 a year to the hospital's overhead--costs that are turned over to patients and insurers, the article noted.

According to Children's Hospital Association President and CEO Mark Wietecha, such specialists can be a good investment. "It's really almost an insignificant amount of money on our national expenditure to let the sickest kids have some opportunity to a life and be re-assimilated," he told KHN and NPR.

For more:
- read the KHN article on health coaches
- here's the KHN/NPR article on child life specialists