It can take a decade to become a doctor. It can take a half-decade to learn nursing. But wellness coaches can be trained quickly, and provide value.
NOTE: This is the fifth in our week-long series on business opportunities from health reform. Yesterday I wrote about predictive health.
While insurance may appeal to MBAs, concierge medicine to trained physicians, and predictive health may appeal to researchers, wellness coaching is something anyone can do.
Wellness coaching is also the key to closing the primary care gap that health reform is about to unleash. There just aren't enough doctors out there for all of us to have a personal relationship with one. But coaches, working for doctors, whether under the aegis of a hospital, a clinic, or an insurance plan, that's another story.
Just as you get to pick your doctor in most medical plans, you should also be able to pick your coach. This is your trusted health adviser. They should have access to your personal health data, and they should be empowered to tell you not only what it means, but how you can change your fate.
Wellness coaches will be generalists. They will know a little about a lot of things. A little about nutrition, a little about physiology, and a little about psychology. If you think of the doctor as the head coach in your life, a wellness coach will be an assistant.
A wellness coach should have enough training to answer general health questions, to perform simple health tests, and they should have marketplace knowledge. If I ask my coach about fish oil, he or she should be able to explain it to me in words I understand.
Many people are going to chafe at the idea of having a coach in their face about their health, and if you've reached your 40s without one that's understandable. The key is to start building the profession, now, providing services to people whose views aren't fully-formed, and to learn from that.
Early steps have already been taken on the road to creating this new profession, with coaching being adapted to chronic conditions like diabetes. What is going to change is the spread of coaching from those who are sick to those who are well.
I believe there is big money to be made in wellness. I believe insurers are going to find their investments in wellness pay off handsomely, in slowly reducing the drain on our system from diabetes, heart disease, maybe even alcoholism and drug addiction.
What we have lacked in America's health system is lifelong communication. We get it when we're young from our pediatrician, our teachers, our parents. But we lose access to it, we make mistakes, and many of us don't even start to change until it's too late.
Change that, and you will not only bend the health care cost curve, you are going to bring a lot of people into a fulfilling lifetime career.