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From Expertise to Empathy: Why Partnering With a Nurse Coach Versus a Health Coach Makes Sense

In today's dynamic healthcare landscape, the need for personalized support and guidance in achieving optimal wellness has never been greater. As individuals seek to improve their health and well-being, they often turn to health coaches for assistance. However, when it comes to comprehensive and holistic care, there is a compelling case to be made for the unique expertise and invaluable role of a nurse coach. In this blog post, I want to share my thoughts on why a nurse coach is better equipped to provide comprehensive support and drive lasting positive change compared to a traditional, unlicensed health coach.

What is a Nurse Coach?

First, I want to briefly explain what a nurse coach is. Nurse coaches are registered nurses and nurse practitioners who have additional training (and often a board certification) as a nurse coach. Nurse coaching is a process of client-led, goal oriented discovery. Through a process of strength identification, self-exploration, and identification of barriers to change, clients are able to realize new solutions and become empowered in the process. Nurse coaching is not about the coach telling the client "what to do." It is completely driven by the client's hopes and individual circumstances. The accountability of the coaching process can play a huge role in achieving goals for many people.

Nurse coaches work with a variety of clients and help them find their way towards a brighter future by offering clarity to the confused, a way forward for the lost, and hope for those with little. Nurse coaches are change agents. Rather than telling clients what they "should do", they listen to their story, their struggles, and their barriers, and help clients find real direction. A nurse coach offers accountability, support, and guidance that helps clients experience real, meaningful change.

Extensive Clinical Knowledge and Expertise

One of the fundamental advantages of a nurse coach lies in their extensive clinical knowledge and expertise. Nurses undergo rigorous education and training, gaining a deep understanding of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and various medical conditions. This foundation enables nurse coaches to approach coaching from a unique perspective, considering the complexities of the human body and the impact of different interventions. Their ability to assess medical histories, review lab results, and collaborate effectively with other healthcare providers ensures that clients receive tailored guidance rooted in evidence-based practice.

Holistic Assessment and Care

Registered nurses are trained to think of the person as a whole rather than individual symptoms and diagnoses. As a result, nurse coaches possess a holistic approach to healthcare, recognizing that an individual's well-being encompasses not only physical health but also emotional, mental, and social aspects. While health coaches focus primarily on lifestyle modifications, nurse coaches take a broader view, considering the interplay of various factors affecting health with an intimate understanding of the client's more complex circumstances. By addressing underlying psychological or social determinants of health, nurse coaches can help clients overcome barriers and achieve sustainable lifestyle changes.

Continuum of Care and Support

Nurse coaches are uniquely positioned to provide a continuum of care and support to their clients. With their healthcare background, nurse coaches can seamlessly collaborate with other healthcare professionals to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated approach. They can bridge the gap between medical interventions and lifestyle modifications, helping clients navigate complex healthcare systems, manage chronic conditions, and adhere to a mutually developed treatment plan. This collaborative approach enhances the effectiveness of coaching by integrating the best practices of both medical and coaching disciplines.

Empathy and Advocacy

Nursing is synonymous with compassion, empathy, and patient advocacy. These qualities are deeply ingrained in the nurse coach's approach, creating a supportive and nurturing environment for clients. Nurse coaches excel at active listening, understanding clients' unique needs, and tailoring their coaching strategies accordingly. By building trust and rapport, nurse coaches empower individuals to take charge of their health, make informed decisions, and set realistic goals. Furthermore, nurse coaches advocate for their clients within the healthcare system, ensuring their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed.

Safety and Risk Assessment

With their clinical background, nurse coaches possess the skills to identify potential risks and complications associated with specific health conditions or interventions. They can recognize warning signs, assess the appropriateness of certain actions or recommendations, and provide sound advice based on their medical knowledge. This ability to navigate potential risks safeguards clients' well-being and ensures their coaching experience is safe and effective.

Nursing Care Can Often Be Billable Through Insurance

Additionally, another significant advantage of working with a nurse coach is the potential for insurance coverage. As licensed healthcare professionals, nurse coaches may have the ability to bill insurance for their services, making them more accessible and affordable for individuals seeking comprehensive support. This coverage can alleviate financial burdens and allow clients to take advantage of the valuable expertise of a nurse coach without sacrificing their budget. The option to use insurance further highlights the credibility and recognition of nurse coaches within the healthcare system, reinforcing the value they bring to the field of coaching.

In my previous primary care clinic, we employed a registered nurse. She took sick calls during the day, followed protocols to perform patient visits for concerns such as dysuria or upper respiratory symptoms, and she also did teaching visits like how to use an inhaler or glucometer for the first time, giving testosterone or vitamin B12 injections, etc. She also did the very important Medicare Annual Wellness visits. Each of those types of visits were billed through insurance. Done effectively, a registered nurse can more than pay for themselves with their billable services.

Are Nurse Coaching Visits Billable Through Insurance?

Not yet! Recently, there is a movement to make coaching visits billable through insurance. Medicare released a Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®) code that will be used to track outcomes of partnering with a nurse coach to justify future reimbursement of nurse coaching visits through insurance. This has been in the works now for several years, so hopefully we're close! In the meantime, many nurse coaches are able to accept Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings account (HSA) cards as payment for their services. You can read more about this here.

Unless They Lead Group Visits. Then YES!

One of my favorite ways to incorporate a nurse coach into a clinic is by leading group visits. Group visits have been growing in popularity, and the evidence is building that they are an effective, often superior method of delivering quality patient care and improving outcomes. Registered nurses trained as nurse coaches are the perfect facilitators for these types of groups. Some of the most popular groups include diabetes, cardiovascular health, brain health, and chronic pain, but the potential for a group topic is only limited to the needs of the clinic's patient population. What's more, group visits are billable through insurance and very cost effective. You can read more on this topic here.

The impact a registered nurse can have in a clinic extends so far beyond nurse coaching. RNs are leaders, educators, and have the unique ability to be a highly skilled bridge between patients and their healthcare network. When we combine the foundational nursing knowledge with the skills of a nurse coach, its a win win for the patient and the clinic. I personally believe every healthcare setting should have a nurse coach.

While health coaches undoubtedly play a crucial role in guiding individuals towards healthier lifestyles, the distinct advantages offered by nurse coaches make them a superior choice for comprehensive and holistic care. Through their clinical expertise, holistic assessment, collaborative approach, and patient advocacy, nurse coaches empower individuals to achieve sustainable well-being and take control of their health journeys. By leveraging their unique skill set, nurse coaches are transforming the healthcare landscape, providing a level of support and guidance that truly makes a difference in people's lives.

I did my training in nurse coaching many years ago at the Integrative Nurse Coach Academy where I now teach Functional Medicine for Nurses in partnership with the Institute for Functional Medicine. I have found nurse coaching and functional medicine to be the perfect partnership for me to help my clients meet their health and wellness goals. You can read my blog post on that topic here.


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