What is patient coaching?

If a person has a physical problem, the doctor prescribes him a course of treatment. For example, if someone has diabetes that person will have to follow a diet and exercise regime. Whoever suffers from Crohn’s disease, will have to take medication. 

However, these treatments are not always followed up properly. In this case, we refer to poor treatment compliance or bad compliance. There are many reasons why patients do not follow their prescribed treatments: 

  • They do not adhere to their diet because they are not motivated to eat a healthy diet,
  • They just forget to take their medication,
  • They stop exercising because their family and surroundings do not encourage them to do so,
  • They are not serious about taking their pills because they do not understand exactly why they have to take them. 

Exactly because of this poor compliance, people recover less quickly or they suffer more illness than is necessary. That is a pity, not only for the patients themselves but also for their surroundings, for society that invests a great deal of money into effective health care and for doctors who only want the best for their patients. 

Recently, a well-known Belgian cardiologist said on this subject, “We should not be wasting our energy in trying to invent new and more powerful medication. We should instead be doing everything to ensure that heart patients take their medicine correctly”.

The aim of coaching patients is to help sick people to adhere to their recommended treatment properly.  This coaching can occur in various ways: by ringing people up and motivating them, by guiding them through e-mails, by telling them about the risks they run if they do not follow their treatment, etc. 


Why patient coaching is recommended

Our Western health care system is facing a number of major challenges:

  • There is a growing number of chronically ill patients who require long-term, intensive care, e.g. for diabetes, COPD, asthma, Crohn’s disease, high blood pressure, etc.
  • These long-lasting conditions put pressure on the budgets of governments and insurance institutions. 
  • There is a shortage of doctors and nurses who can care for these patients. 
  • The greying of the population will cost us a great deal of money in the coming years. 


These facts make it increasingly clear that our health care will have to change drastically in the future. This means that we will have to look for other ways to take care of ill people as best we can.  The main player in caring for patients will of course always be the doctor. However, the doctor can allow others to be responsible for a number of branches. Coaching patients to increase treatment compliance is an example of this.  In the Anglo-Saxon countries and in Scandinavia this is already the case. And with success. In Belgium, this is not done often enough. Interalis wants to change this situation. 

Using good coaching programmes, everyone comes out on top:

  • The patient, because he/she is followed up better and recovers.
  • The doctor, as he/she does not always have the time to guide patients intensively.  However, the doctor is the first point of access to coaching projects. 
  • In the long term, this leads to financial savings for the government.
  • The insurance institutions keep their chronically ill patients as healthy as possible and thus save money. 
  • The pharmaceutical industry knows that due to disease management, medication is taken correctly.

Patient coaching can take on various forms. Below is a summary:

  • Offering informative brochures to patients so that people are well aware of what their treatment consists of.
  • Ensuring that there is a website containing the correct information.
  • E-coaches: coaches who guide patients via e-mail and SMS.
  • Reminding patients to take their medication via SMS
  • Newsletters with recipes for patients who have to follow a strict diet.
  • Internet chat rooms where patients with the same illness can get together. These chat rooms are then guided by “peers” - patients who coach fellow sufferers.
  • Coaching patients by phone.
  • Discussion and training sessions with patients
  • Demonstration of how to use medication. Here people learn how to take their medication correctly. 
  • Coaching at home by nurses or fellow sufferers, etc. 

The present range on offer in Belgium is mainly limited to offering information via websites. Here the emphasis is mainly on increasing patient knowledge. However, just providing information is not enough.  For instance, most obese heart patients are only too aware that they have to lose weight but they do not manage to do this. Aspects that are often ignored in coaching include a change in attitude, increasing self-sufficiency, increasing motivation, looking for strategies to maintain changes in behaviour etc.  Apart from an increase in knowledge, these aspects are just as important for a change in behaviour.

Interalis believes that effective coachingprograms must focus on all of these aspects, … not only one!

How do you do that? Well, that’s the expertise of Interalis.