3-D Perspective: Client, Health Coach, & Participant
by Mary Barbato
It’s not often that we get the chance to talk to one of our participants who happens to be a client as well. But that’s exactly what happened this month when I sat down with Tina Swanton, Program Manager responsible for grant funded programming through the state health department and the initiative of Access to Quality of Food at Michigan Health Improvement Alliance, Inc. (MiHIA). But what made the conversation more unique was talking to someone about the Canary Health® DPP program, Prevent Diabetes® that has also spent roughly 19 years in health and wellness, has executed other DPP and Weight Loss programs as a lifestyle coach, and has held numerous certifications including that of Certified Diabetes Educator. I was so thankful to Tina to have this opportunity. I knew when we started our conversation I’d be able to walk away with some great insights to share.
Q: So our reading audience can understand, please explain MiHIA’s role in Michigan, and your role at MiHIA.
A: MiHIA covers 14 counties in Michigan. We work in healthcare to build collaboration as a backbone organization. MIHIA is a shared model of funding from health care systems, grant funding, and a wide variety of other sources.
As a Program Manager, I was hired to facilitate the Population Health Strategy Team. More recently through a formal partnership with the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance (GLBRA) the Transforming Health in a Vibrant Economy (THRIVE) portfolio was created. This consists of 32 interventions improving health and the economy. One of my responsibilities within that partnership is to lead the Access to Quality of Food initiative and many of the state funded programs like Diabetes Prevention. We see access to healthy foods as the prevention, DPP as the intervention and work with a program called Day Two as the treatment phase on how food is medicine.
Q: Why did you choose to focus on offering a digital DPP program?
A: Our goal in 2015 when we started DPP in our region was to create a system change. We worked with partners to start the program, brought master trainers into the region for a more sustainable model, but there were still gaps at who was being served. As we continued to receive grants and other funding for DPP programs, we started working to fill those gaps. The gaps we kept seeing across our 14-county region was a lot of rural population that still didn’t have access to where classes were happening. When we received funding for virtual DPP programs, we thought this was a way to service those counties, and it was. We had tried another DPP program, but we needed more data for the CDC and grant reports. When we went looking for a different virtual DPP program, we based our decision on cost, quality of curriculum, and data they could provide. Canary Health’s® program was head and shoulders above anything else we looked at so we were excited to start a partnership with Canary Health’s Canary Coaches division and offer the program across our region.
Q: You spoke about signing up for a DPP program to fill gaps in care. Were there any other reasons, and what were you hoping to accomplish?
A: Other than serving those who couldn’t reach a class, we wanted to reach populations that might not normally sign up for a class – more than just about where they live, but the population of minorities or low-income individuals who, even if they live next door to a class they still might not sign up for it. By offering an online program where they could attend in the comfort of their own home or on their cell phone, and they don’t have to feel judgement –giving people dignity and participating at their own pace — was a huge piece for us.
Q: Are your business objectives being met?
A: Yes, as far as reaching people, and it’s great that over half that have registered are far into the program itself.
Q: What have you heard from your 8 referring partners about their satisfaction with the program?
A: The biggest thing I hear is that they like they are referring it and they like that it’s an option for their patients and who they are serving. A lot of partners are reaching out to tell me how they love that Canary Health is constantly giving them the data reports they need so they know how their marketing efforts are doing. The conversation and support they get from Canary Health and the team has been fantastic. I’ve said from the beginning that the Canary Health team makes my job so much easier. I have heard nothing but positive things come from healthcare partners that are offering the program.
Q: Why did you decide to work with Canary Health’s Canary Coaches? Was there something specific that made you make the choice to work with us?
A: The Canary Health DPP program Prevent Diabetes® checked all the boxes we needed but also felt like we had the opportunity to truly build a partnership. Others we were looking into gave us the feeling it was just going to be a transaction. There was no ongoing conversation, no concrete understanding of the data we’d receive. With Canary Health it’s always been personal and always someone there to answer my questions. And there was always a true conversation with each person of the Canary Team. You guys are phenomenal.
Q: Would you recommend this program to other potential clients and why?
A: Yes, I think there are pros and cons to both in-person and virtual programs. It really comes down to understanding who each person is and what type of program would serve their personal health goals. Having both the in-person and the online program as options helps. So yes, I would highly recommend the Canary Health Diabetes Prevention® program.
Q: What challenges have you had implementing the program and how have you mitigated these challenges?
A: I haven’t had any challenges. Your team really takes care of everything.
Q: I want to turn now to get your perspective as an actual participant. Is there anything you feel comfortable sharing on a personal level about why you signed up for the Prevent Diabetes® program?
A: Yes, let’s get personal. Part of the reason was I wanted to learn more about the program and understand what participants were going through so I could answer partner questions. But that wasn’t the only reason.
I have never had a weight problem as an adult. I’ve been a marathon runner, I’ve done half Ironman’s, been a nutrition educator, and I always worked at and out at the gym. But then I had my second child with major complications and had to go through major restrictions. So at this time I had 20 pounds I was unable to lose after giving birth. Over time, I was able to get back into activity and then I suffered some injuries putting activity again at a halt. Ready to go back to the gym, not only the place I would work out but the place I weighed myself in weekly, and COVID hit putting me without my workout equipment or scale to monitor my weight. I really struggled. It got to me mentally because I was a person who was always moving and I felt stuck. I needed to work through mentally what was preventing me from losing weight even though I knew how to do it. It was time for me to take the educator expert hat off and go through the steps I would ask any client I was working with and realize it was ok to ask for help. Maybe it’s the accountability that I needed. I personally needed help to get back on track. I’m used to being on the other side of the programs so this was not my normal.
(She laughs) What was eye opening to me was when I got on the Fitbit®scale that showed up in the mail that you get for free from the program, and it let me know I was 10 pounds heavier than I thought I was! But I’m 9 pounds down now since being on the Prevent Diabetes® program. The coaches really help.
Q: Is it hard to stay committed to the program?
A: No it’s pretty easy because you can do it on your own time. I just really needed the accountability and I get that with the program through my personal coach and my weekly weigh in.
Q: Is there anything that stands out that you really like about the program versus other programs you’ve gone through?
A: I think the biggest piece really is doing it on your own time. If you think about it, you have to sign up and attend an in-person class and you are running late from work and you’re stressed – are you really mentally in a state to take in the information? Some people are ashamed to go to an in-person 1:1 session if they didn’t keep up with the program. Prevent Diabetes® is relaxed enough so that if you are not mentally ready to learn about that lesson, you just don’t hit play. Prevent Diabetes always meets you where you are. You get the information when you need, want, and when you are ready for it.
Q: Is Prevent Diabetes helping you meet your health goals?
Q: What was your favorite part of the program?
A: (She laughs) My favorite part is the scale. It’s the best gift ever! It talks to my phone. But also doing the program on your own time and the flexibility of it is really great.
Q: Would you recommend this to other people considering signing up for the program?