Health Coach Juanita Castillo, (left) a certified diabetes educator, participates in a medical visit for a patient of the Boehringer Ingelheim Americares Free Clinic in Danbury, Conn. Photo by Alex Ostasiewicz/Americares.
Stamford, Conn. – Nov. 9, 2017 – A new health coach program at the Boehringer Ingelheim Americares Free Clinic in Danbury is helping uninsured patients better manage chronic disease with crucial diet and exercise changes. Health coaches work one-on-one with patients with diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol to reach their health goals.
Ninety six percent of patients who completed the 12-month program experienced improvements in at least one clinical measure, including blood glucose, BMI, triglycerides, LDL and systolic blood pressure, according to an evaluation of the program’s first year. Weight loss was the most notable improvement, with two-thirds of participants losing weight. Patients also reported making improvements to their diets after learning to read nutrition labels and control portion size.
The evaluation analyzed data for 70 patients who either completed the program, or were actively participating at the one-year mark. Americares Free Clinics shared the results with free clinics nationwide at the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics’ annual symposium in October.
“Health coaches help patients set realistic goals and feel empowered to be successful,” said Americares Free Clinics Executive Director Karen Gottlieb. “Patients finish the program understanding they cannot rely on medication alone to address their health issues.”
Americares Frees Clinics launched the program in 2016 with funding from the Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation to give patients the knowledge, skills and confidence to self-manage their disease. Independent research has shown about half of all patients leave medical visits without understanding their provider’s advice.
Volunteer doctors and nurse practitioners on staff refer patients for the voluntary program. The health coaches help patients understand their providers’ instructions and work with them to develop individual action plans that include diet and exercise goals. One coach is a certified diabetes educator fluent in English and Spanish; the other is a nutritionist fluent in English and Portuguese. On average, participants meet with their coach once every 20 days. The coaches also attend patients’ medical visits at the clinic.
“The Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation supports the health coach program because it closely aligns with our mission of improving patients’ lives and strengthening our communities,” said Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation President Karen Iannella.
The clinic provides free, quality care to low-income area residents of Danbury and surrounding towns without health insurance. Each year, more than 1,000 patients receive over $3 million in medical care through the clinic and its network of community partners.
In focus groups, many participants credited the coaches with giving them the encouragement to eat fewer carbohydrates. On average, participants saw their HbA1c, which measures average blood sugar, drop by a half-point. Many said the program has changed the way they shop for household groceries and the meals they serve their families.
“There’s a ripple effect,” said Danbury Clinic Director Dina Valenti. “It’s not just one patient becoming healthier; the whole family is healthier.”