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Chronic health down to the wire

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Telephone coaching can help people with chronic diseases to self-manage their conditions and may be particularly useful in targeting vulnerable and disadvantaged populations.

New research has found that telephone coaching can be used to address the impact of some of the health workforce shortages in Australia, particularly in areas where people with chronic disease may not have direct access to many health services.

The study reviewed literature on telephone-based coaching services to determine their effectiveness in assisting in the management of patients who had one or more chronic diseases.

The review found that most coaching services targeted patients with complex needs who had one or more chronic diseases. Several studies reported improvements in health behaviour, self-efficacy, health status and satisfaction with the service. Both planned and unscripted telephone coaching interventions were found to be effective for improving self-management skills in people from vulnerable groups. The planned telephone coaching services had the advantage of regular contact and helping people develop their skills over time, whereas the unscripted services allowed the coach to tailor support for the patient’s needs.

Lead researcher Dr Sarah Dennis from the University of New South Wales said more than a third of the papers reviewed focussed on vulnerable people and telephone coaching was found to be effective.

“In fact, often the vulnerable populations had worse control of their chronic condition at baseline and demonstrated the greatest improvement compared with those with better control at baseline,” Dr Dennis said.

“Health coaching to develop self-management skills including behaviour change, goal setting and empowerment can assist in reducing the burden of chronic disease on the healthcare system.”

However the researchers warned about making assumptions about the cost of coaching relative to other forms of care, saying the study found that in most cases it did not reduce health care costs and, in some cases, costs could increase.

Kirsty Waterford