Health Coaching Legalities: Stay in Your Lane

*This blog discussion is intended for educational purposes only and should not take the place of or supersede the advice of an attorney or legal counsel*


For liability to exist, there must first be harm, injury, or loss. Where there is potential for harm, injury, or loss for the client/patient, there is potential liability exposure for the health coach. Where you provide your coaching services can determine exactly how liability could affect you.

The Legal Information Institute (LII) says: Because states create their own standards fort he doctrine of respondeat superior, different jurisdictions use different tests to prove that respondeat superior exists. While respondeat superior does not apply to independent contracts, states have varying definitions of ‘independent contractor’ and what rules and regulations apply to them. So, make sure you understand the legalities in your area.

If you are coaching for an employer, know that a court will choose to apply the doctrine of respondeat superior to an employer, regardless of how closely the employer was monitoring the employee. The risk for employers who employ non-clinicians as health coaches could be particularly at risk of liability.

If you are coaching from your own independent practice, whether you are a licensed clinician or not, you are responsible for your own actions. This is why your practice documents are so critical to the success of your business, as well as your transparency and scope of services.

This scenario is truly where the phrase ‘stay in your lane’ comes into play. Your lane is directly or indirectly defined by your state’s rules and regulations for medicine, nursing, dietetics and nutrition, and therapies, including behavioral health. One key piece of information to know is that when information is exchanged in the areas of mental and physical health, you can risk charges including unlicensed practice of medicine in various disciplines. Whether you are licensed or not, you need to understand your state and local regulations and avoid activities that could move you into a realm in which you are not licensed, registered, or professionally credentialed.

For example, nurses can teach patients about diets they have been prescribed and they can discuss general health eating guidelines backed by accepted scientific evidence, but they cannot plan a diet for a patient, adapt recipes, or discuss calorie counts because these fall into the lane of a dietitian/nutritionist.

So, when we start talking about liabilities, what else comes to mind? Insurance. That is our topic for tomorrow’s blog!

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