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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU: What’s in a Name? Health Coaching Terminology Can Affect User Expectations

Health coaching programs can benefit from understanding participants’ perceptions of different coaching terms and functions that can inform ways to make the programs attractive to different audiences, according to research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Researchers interviewed 25 commercially insured adults and 25 Medicaid members to find out what they thought about various job titles for “someone who uses experience and one-on-one communication to help others change behaviors to improve their health.” Participants were asked for their preferences for and associations with the 32 different terms that fit the definition.

Both groups preferred the job titles specialist and advisor. Commercially insured participants frequently selected coach as a preferred term, whereas more Medicaid members thought it was not professional enough. Commercially insured participants also were more likely to distinguish certain job titles they saw as experts from those they saw in a more supportive role.

“Findings indicate that different labels affect client expectations, and that while some perceptions were more universal across participants, others varied in meaningful ways between Medicaid and commercially insured participants,” wrote the study’s lead author, Dr. Amy McQueen, associate professor and co-director of the Health Communication Research Laboratory at the Brown School.

“Regardless of insurance type, participants saw value in having a health coach—by any name — as long as the coach developed good rapport with the client and was an expert in their topic area.”

The research was conducted as part of collaborations with the Envolve Center for Health Behavior Change.

The study was published online Aug. 1 in Health Promotion Practice.

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Photo: Dr. Amy McQueen