Any honest, objective assessment will reveal there is nothing contentious about health coaches using lab data in a quest to help clients reach their health goals. There should be no argument or controversy if we study the difference between how doctors look at lab tests and how health coaches look at the lab results. We also have to study the difference between labs a physician is required to order by standard of care versus labs that a certified health coach may run to help nudge a client towards healthy behavior. So, let’s get on the same page for the benefit of all we serve.
According to NutritionEd.org: “Health care professionals that intend to become a health coach typically have either an undergraduate or graduate degree in an applicable discipline. After earning a degree, aspiring health coaches acquire experience in the field through job positions, internships or volunteerism. To establish credibility, many health coaches also become certified professionals.” What a concept! They go on to list a succinct job description for Health Coaches;
“The main function of health coaches is to help clients to cultivate a healthier lifestyle. Examples of specific duties may include:
Assessing a client’s current health condition
Developing health goals for a client
Providing counseling services
Documenting a client’s progress
Conducting behavioral health screenings
Establishing a client’s treatment plan”
Some would argue that lab reports should not be part of the assessment. Some think that only doctors licensed to provide a medical diagnosis should interpret the lab data. This flies in the face of the fact that lab reports contain much more data than the very narrow amount used to provide a medical diagnosis. Typically, doctors flag “out of range” lab values and will prescribe medication to “bring the test results into normal range” if the patient has correlating symptoms. Lab reports can indicate various treatment options for symptom removal or relief care, and what agents to use to support patients when disease management is the goal. These are important considerations and define, to some extent, their backyard. In the health coaching world we call that “treating the paper.” This allopathic approach to lab testing leaves a lot of valuable lab data on the table.
Having been a “health coach” since long before the handle was introduced, I’ve seen thousands of lab reports on thousands of people. There are recognizable patterns within normal ranges that may reveal dysfunction or “healing opportunities.” However, these usually do not meet the criteria of a medical diagnosis. Not yet anyway. How many times have we heard clients complain their doctor said, “Everything looks normal!” when looking at their lab work? And yet the patient knows something is wrong because they remember feeling much better in the past.
In twenty years of looking at lab reports, I’ve never done anything untoward, unethical, or even slightly contentious with the information or data. I’ve never provided or pretended to provide a medical interpretation of the lab data, a medical diagnosis of a specific condition or used the data to treat a specific condition. Health coaches gladly grant that province, indeed a total monopoly, to doctors who are licensed to do so. Doctors can also keep the treatment and management of disease all to themselves, never having to worry about a health coach stepping in their backyard.
Health coaches do not concern themselves with the disease that has the person, but with the person who has the disease (if any real disease exists).
We help people get well. Read the job description once more, especially “The main function of health coaches is to help clients to cultivate a healthier lifestyle.” That’s it! That’s exactly how health coaches use lab data — to educate the client about what’s really going on inside their bodies and motivate them to act while encouraging them to stick with a program!
Doctors use lab data to diagnose and treat specific conditions or rule them out. If we did that it would be more than contentious, it would be illegal. We use lab data to illuminate healing opportunities and motivate the client to eat better, sleep better, exercise more (or less), and reduce or eliminate all possible stressors and contributors to Metabolic Chaos®. We also use lab tests to help identify some of those stressors, such as food sensitivities and overgrowth of unwanted biota. Along with other lifestyle changes, we educate clients on what nutritional supplements might provide needed support (with their doctor’s advice or approval) and help the client correct course over time. That’s the ultimate health coaching model.
Health coaching is not the same as heroic intervention or disease management, so we don’t use labs for that. Instead, we make observations about what health systems or functions need improvement in the long term if the client wants to achieve their health goals. We then apply wellness principles, along with some accountability and encouragement to get the job done. We don’t control or guarantee outcomes as it takes time to heal, but we do present clients with very reasonable and realistic expectations.
When clients improve their habits and behavior, they invariably improve their health. If they have a true medical condition, we help them work around the edges of it as their doctor provides medical oversight. In thousands of cases, we’ve seen the client’s medical diagnosis go out the window along with their symptoms. With time, health is restored as the hormonal, immune, digestion and detoxification systems return to normal function. Energy production is improved, and autonomic balance is reestablished. I think that’s the synergy our clients appreciate and what we are all looking for.
Doctors save lives and are sorely needed when the disease process is so contracted that observations a health coach can make cannot be capitalized on. If someone gets off a plane from West Africa and their temperature is 105 and they’re bleeding from the eyeballs, they don’t call their health coach! That’s why we appreciate doctors for what they do so well. Likewise, many doctors are learning to appreciate that health coaching is, in effect, where the rubber meets the road in getting people well.
We don’t label or treat any condition specifically, we treat everything (every cell, tissue, organ and system – the entire organism) non-specifically with lifestyle and self-care, education and the thoughtful use of objective criteria.
It’s hard work, but a labor of love, and there is nothing contentious about it.