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Dr Margarite Vale combined science and technology to write her story of entrepreneurial success, developing a product that helps people with chronic illnesses manage their health and lifestyles over the phone. The COACH Program recently beat thousands of other companies to take out the microbusiness award at the Telstra Business Awards.

Vale is also Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne and joins Peter Switzer on his program – SWITZER – to discuss how the COACH Program works.

Fill the gap

COACH stands for Coaching on Achieving Cardiovascular Health. Vale says the COACH Program began with a passion to try and help people which chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease. It also started as a PhD. Vale was originally a secondary school teacher. She always had an interest in health and nutrition, and so decided to do a Masters in Human Nutrition, and that’s when started work as a dietician in a public hospital.

“People would ask how good was I at helping people lose weight or how good was I at helping people lower cholesterol,” she says. “I had no idea because we never saw patients again after they were in hospital, so there was no evaluation. We also had evidence that only a minority of people with chronic diseases like coronary heart disease actually improved their risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure and so on to prevent their disease from progressing.”

The COACH Program became Vale’s PhD and, to test it, they undertook two randomised trials and she says it has been proven to work.

“We translated the research to clinical practice,” she says. “We had great success with the trials, and the only way that the program could then expand to benefit the many people with chronic diseases is to deliver the program in a business model.”

Being a microbusiness, there is less than five people working in the business. The way the program is delivered is also unique. The software and “know-how” is licensed to organisations, which Vale says makes the model “infinitely transportable across the world”.

“It’s running from six private health funds in Australia. It’s running in the public health system in all the states, and it’s actually running in the Netherlands with the largest private fund there.”

Vale says the COACH Program has been sought by the health industry, and this is because through clinical trials it has been proven to work.

“The COACH Program actually leads the world in the area of coaching for the prevention of chronic disease because it’s the world’s only evidence based program of coaching for the prevention of chronic diseases like coronary heart disease,” she says.

Research important

There are many benefits to the program being conducted over the phone, says Vale. She says one is that people can be reached a time that suite them. She also says that face to face or group sessions or poorly attended and it’s also been shown that people who don’t attend these programs have worse risk factor profiles.

“With the telephone approach, you can actually reach virtually 100 per cent of people that you want to target for this program.”

Vale says the COACH Program is available for eight different types of chronic diseases.

“The aim is to help patients achieve the target levels for their risk factors, such as cholesterol and blood pressure and body weight and physical activity and so on,” she says.

The COACH Program is operating as a business and is affiliated with the University of Melbourne. Vale says while it’s young as a business model, it has a 15-year track record and for eight years it was research only. 

“Only with the success of the research did we start to roll it out,” she says. “It was rolled out incrementally, first in the public health system, then in the private health system, and then overseas. Our goal is to have the COACH Program to be the number one chronic disease management program in the world.”

Published on: Thursday, October 01, 2009

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