AI moving into Health & Wellness Coaching?

Artificial intelligence (AI) seems to be everywhere these days, and the world of healthcare is no exception.  With all new technology, it is natural to be wary of the change it may create for several good reasons.  Will AI replace the workforce?  Will it  do a better job at keeping people well?  Somehow I doubt it.  Let’s take a brief look at where AI is being used in healthcare and whether it has a role to play in Health and Wellness coaching.

In Healthcare Artificial Intelligence is being used in many different ways:

  • In the precise diagnosis of disease –   with the aim of guiding appropriate treatments. AI is used to analyse patients’ genomic and molecular data.  Two examples,  
    • AI has been applied to detect Alzheimer’s disease
    • Ai has been used to help select the best medication for patients who suffer from major depression.
  • In addition, deep learning methods (a method used in AI) have been used to model electronic health record data and from that information firstly, to predict health outcomes for patients, and secondly to give an early idea of treatment costs.  

There are many uses for AI in healthcare –  from patients asking questions of chatbots to Doctors having the ability to take clearer and more comprehensive notes.

But there are concerns. And these include:

  • If AI is to be used accurately and effectively, the workforce needs to be retrained.  (Big undertaking.)
  • Although evidence exists to show that AI works, the study designs may not be rigorous enough to replicate the many and varied settings that the research could and should take place.  Randomised control trials are needed where the many variables are taken into account.  For example, can the findings be “transferred” to another setting, another country, even another hospital?
  • It is possible for AI to give Inappropriate recommendations and at times to make things up – if the information is not readily available!

We cannot deny that Artificial Intelligence is one of the most significant industrial revolutions of our time.

So what about AI in Coaching?

This is a question that is growing in frequency.   Can AI assist or even replace human coaching?  Given the situations described above, where it is being used in healthcare, Health and Wellness Coaches have an even stronger interest in answering this question as the term “virtual health coach” appears in more places and is being promoted as a way of providing support to help people “become their healthiest”.

If given access to it, a virtual health coach can sift through vast quantities of health metrics and make recommendations on areas for change.  So there lies the first hint that this is not coaching.  Do coaches make recommendations?  No. However, wearable devices (basic AI) are invaluable at tracking certain behaviours and increasing awareness – the first step to change. (And these are becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms so the information they can produce.  Did you fall over?  Shall I call an ambulance?  Heart rate arrhythmias etc.)

Robots can be used to monitor and encourage an individual in their progress.  So, the claim is that personalised health coaching can be delivered by a robot using information from wearables.  But again, is this coaching? 

Virtual coaching can work if goals are clearly defined and there are very clear measures of success. This “coaching” takes the form of monitoring and following up which we know is part of our work.  However, limitations are inevitable.  If clients have conflicting objectives AI cannot pick these up.  If an individual sets unethical goals can AI  detect?  Unlikely. .

We must also consider that the data provided to the bots may be biased, not generalised enough to make assumptions;  also that AI was initially created in Western countries.

Another thought – could the use of a robot providing support (in the form of advice) create dependency?  What about the many privacy risks that could exist?

The research is indicating that although chatbots can help in the short term, they suffer from the same drop off in effectiveness over time as wearables. Second, in the realm of health, even human scientists given reams of data about an individual do not yet understand enough to give personalised advice. 

WE cannot deny that the use of  AI in many situations is scalable, less expensive, accessible and available 24/7 but…

Human coaching has many advantages.  Here are a few:

  • A coach can go beyond a client’s initial goal selection and attainment, and help people understand deeper objectives which might change their focus mid coaching.
  •  We know that motivation comes from deep personal reasons that can only be uncovered with sensitive interaction and reflection.
  •  As coaches we can facilitate a creative process, which may lead a client from one idea to the next.  AI will not provoke “aha” moments!
  • Coaches listen for what is not said in session as well as what is said. We provide empathy and support that goes beyond words. A human coach can catch nuances that the chatbot cannot.
  • Finally, what the coach brings to the session, as an individual, will have as much impact on the client’s success as the techniques they use

So to summarise, our role as human coaches is  invaluable for exploring the “who” –  the deep aspirations of the client, their inner world, their underlying emotions and their hidden desires.

Do we need to be super coaches to compete?

No, we need to be even more human coaches.

These are just a few ideas on a very complex topics which needs to be revisited as progression in AI continues.