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Fibromyalgia Health Coaches and Educators
Could Fill Vital Gap in Care

By Ginevra Liptan, MD

I remember the first patient I diagnosed with diabetes. As I launched into my eager young doctor two-minute spiel about the importance of exercise and diet changes to manage diabetes, the patient stared back at me stunned, like a deer caught in headlights. I quickly realized she needed a lot more education on this subject than I had the time or expertise to offer. And since changing behaviors is really hard, she would also need advice, moral support, and encouragement.

Thankfully, for the newly diagnosed diabetic there are nurse educators who do exactly that. I referred my patient to one, and when she returned for a follow-up appointment, she was confident and already making positive changes in her life. I was blown away by the difference that a few hours of education and coaching could make.

Fibromyalgia desperately needs a similar model, where a person newly diagnosed would be automatically referred to a fibromyalgia health educator. According to The American Pain Society guidelines, “patient education is critical to optimal management of fibromyalgia.” Currently, however, fibromyalgia education is left to the individual provider who has scant time and sometimes little knowledge about what to teach or how to teach it effectively. Nearly half of all primary care doctors reported uncertainty in diagnosing, treating, and managing patients with FM.

This is where a fibromyalgia health coach could fill a critical gap in the health care system, teaching clients how to exercise the right way, make dietary changes that can reduce pain, and best track symptoms to monitor treatment effectiveness. These are things that, when you are bogged down by fog, pain, and fatigue, are challenging to figure out on your own!

And let's face it, since many doctors don't know how to manage fibromyalgia well, patients often have to advocate strongly for themselves. Fibromyalgia health coaches/educators could give up-to-date information on current research and treatment options and help their clients navigate effectively through a confusing health care landscape and prepare for doctor appointments. This is especially vital for patients living in places where they just don’t have adequate medical resources or specialists.

Because I can give the medical advice like suggesting someone avoid gluten, or eat more protein, or perform gentle exercise. But the hard part for all of us lies in actually executing those changes, and that’s where I think having a coach helps. Coaches also can provide some help to get the joy back in life. Shifting your mindset even a little bit can result in a huge transformation.

Successful management of any chronic illness requires a large component of education on self-management skills. In an ideal world, every fibromyalgia patient’s health care team would include a health coach/educator along with a medical professional. Ideally these health coaches act as patient advocates, who can guide and teach other patients in self-care, what to ask their doctors, and to offer emotional support.

I hope one day it will be as common for doctors to refer to a fibromyalgia health coach/educator as it is to refer to a diabetes nurse educator.

Author Bio: Ginevra Liptan, MD, developed fibromyalgia while in medical school. She is a graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine and board-certified in internal medicine. Dr. Liptan is the founder and medical director of The Frida Center for Fibromyalgia and the author of The FibroManual: A Complete Fibromyalgia Treatment Guide For You...And Your Doctor and The Fibro Food Formula: A Real-Life Approach to Fibromyalgia Relief.

Excerpt from Dr. Liptan's original Blog Post - February 19, 2016.

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