Can Phone Coaching Motivate Veterans to Try Preventive Care?

To get more veterans engaged in preventative health care, the VHA now offers telephone-based coaching services.


The VHA offers several preventive care programs to veterans who are at high risk for various chronic illnesses: For instance, 20% of veterans smoke, and > 70% of VHA patients are overweight.

Although those programs are well supported and have strong evidence for effectiveness, they’re underused, say researchers from Durham VAMC and Duke University in North Carolina, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Michigan, and VA Salt Lake City Center for Informatics Decision Enhancement and Surveillance and University of Utah. The VHA’s MOVE! Program produced significant weight loss among participants—the only problem was that < 10% of eligible veterans actually joined.

The researchers conducted the ACTIVATE trial, which involved a web-based health risk assessment (HRA) coupled with a health coaching intervention to link veterans to a local prevention program. In the study, veterans completed an online HRA. The researchers then tested whether 2 telephone-based coaching sessions were more effective in getting the veterans to enroll in prevention programs than did completing the HRA.

The coaching was not designed to change behavior but specifically aimed at helping veterans set a “first step” goal by choosing a program to enroll in that aligned with their values and preferences as well as risk factors highlighted by their HRA surveys.

The results aren’t in, but the researchers expect their findings to help the VHA implement its plan to engage veterans in preventive health care. Their “robustly designed trial,” they say, “will add valuable knowledge at a critical time when VHA and other health systems are working to understand how to effectively incorporate HRA findings into the busy clinic flow of primary care.”

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