In today's world, health coaching clients have access to a wide range of options for better understanding their health through direct-to-consumer (DTC) lab tests. Clients no longer have to order lab work through a medical provider. With this increased availability comes the question of how health coaches can effectively coach clients around lab work within the scope of practice.
Can health coaches order labs for their clients through direct-to-consumer tests? Are they able to recommend lab tests based on their clients' health concerns? Can health coaches interpret DTC lab work results and recommend treatment?
In a recent webinar, Monique Class, FMCA Senior Content Developer and lead Educator, shed light on how health coaches can navigate this changing landscape. According to her, DTC lab testing can make health coaches a vital part of a client's collaborative care team.
Types of lab testing
Generally, health coaching clients will ask about two different types of lab testing, prescriber lab testing and direct-to-consumer testing. It is important for coaches to understand the differences between each option.
- Doctor-requested lab testing: Ordered by primary care physicians and specialists, these tests are ordered yearly or when a doctor requires a test to help diagnose a problem. Because medical professionals must order these tests, patients may need to ask for specific tests and advocate for themselves.
- DTC lab testing: DTC tests can be ordered by clients directly. As these have become more widely available, there are different forms DTC tests can take. The results of these tests are then sent to the client directly, which can result in confusion and concern.
Where Health Coaches Can Help
“I think what's happening in the lab industry is going to elevate the status of coaching in a large way," said Class.
There is a need for informed guidance when it comes to both doctor-requested and DTC lab testing. Those without a medical background can read and interpret their own medical results, potentially leading to misunderstanding the information, and making important decisions based on incomplete information. The same can happen when working with a doctor, especially as doctors spend less time working directly with patients and don’t always explain results clearly.
This is where health coaches can make an impact. Health coaches regularly work with their clients to co-create personalized health and wellness plans. They understand the goals their clients are trying to achieve. So, when it comes to working with labs, coaches should have credible places, practitioners, and DTC lab tests they can recommend to inquiring clients for requesting and interpreting lab work.
To stay within their scope of practice, health coaches must focus on educating their clients. If a client expresses interest in getting specific lab tests, a health coach can provide guidance on where to get the tests done. They can educate on credible DTC labs but do not directly prescribe specific tests or tell clients what to order.
"Our expertise lies in behavior change," Class explains. "An abnormal lab value remains abnormal without effective behavior change. What's often overlooked is that the focus should be on improving lifestyle, not just labs."
Collaboration is Key
Class emphasizes collaboration. Health coaches should help clients build a collaborative care team that works together to help them achieve their health goals. Health coaches can offer clients recommendations to visit trusted medical professionals. This approach helps clients build a collaborative care team that works together to help them achieve their health goals.
Health Coach Scope of Practice
"We're experts in behavior change," says Class. "An abnormal lab value without behavior change stays abnormal. What's misguided right now is that everybody is focusing on the labs, focus on the lifestyle."
Lifestyle change is where health coaches truly excel. While they may not be experts in lab work, coaches possess the knowledge and skills to help clients implement the behavior changes necessary for overall health improvement. Behavior change is a critical component of a collaborative care approach because it is where transformation begins and where lab results can be positively impacted.
"Labs don't change people, coaches do."
Health coaches help change people, change behaviors, and change overall health. By empowering clients to make informed choices and supporting them in implementing sustainable lifestyle changes, health coaches play a crucial role in guiding individuals toward better outcomes and a healthier life.