DDN March 2021 March 2021 | Page 14



Is online coaching really as good as face-to-face service ? Let ’ s find out , says Angela Calcan

Online solutions have

revolutionised our lives and mostly for the better – especially so during a time where we are forced to stay at home . Digital solutions have become the new way of life . Forget a stressful trip to the shops , now you can do your grocery shop from your couch . Want to change insurer ? Compare the whole of the market with the swipe of your finger . Fast and convenient and generally pretty safe , online solutions are becoming our ‘ go-to ’. But does the online magic translate to a coaching service too ? We say yes , and here ’ s why .
If you ’ ve got a Fitbit or if you ’ ve downloaded Mindspace or something similar then you ’ ve already bought into the idea that tech solutions can support behaviour change . Not only are they popular , but online interventions – including apps , online courses and even counselling – have actually proved effective for treating addiction and alcohol use for some time now .
Now that all sounds very promising , but there is very limited research for online interventions using video conferencing . So we asked ourselves , could we replicate the human element of face-toface ( F2F ) coaching and get similar results if we used a platform like Zoom ? To help answer this question
we worked with Professor Daniel Frings and his team from London Southbank University . In this study Frings compared Extended Brief Interventions ( EBI ) delivered online via our DrinkCoach service to F2F in a GP surgery .
EBI is the recommended treatment for people scoring 16 to 19 or higher risk on the alcohol use disorders test ( AUDIT ). Approximately 1.9m people in the UK drink at higher risk levels . If you ’ ve completed the DrinkCoach alcohol test you ’ ll be familiar with your risk level . If you haven ’ t , you can take it at drinkcoach . org . uk .
EBI is typically :
• A series of 4-6 sessions
• Delivered by a specialist
• Designed to motivate the client to achieve their goal to reduce their alcohol consumption or stop .
For the research Professor Frings compared EBI-delivered F2F in a GP surgery to EBI delivered at home or work via a Skype call . The results were very encouraging .
Both online and face-to-face EBI showed improvements for clients across a number of key measures . These included :
• Reduction in drinking days
• Improved psychological wellbeing
• Improved physical health
• Improved quality of life rating
The research also found that the demographic makeup of our online clients differed from the F2F group . Online clients tended to be younger , scored higher on the AUDIT and reported more days in work but , when baseline drinking and age were controlled for , the findings still showed online EBI led to equal or greater increases in quality of life and reductions in self-reported drinking days .
So what does this mean for online coaching and future research ? Put simply , the research tells us that the outlook for online coaching is good . It also told us that there ’ s more to do from a research perspective .
Future research would benefit from a larger sample – it could include a control group , which this small research project didn ’ t have . And while this work was based on historic data , future research could be more forward-focused , specifying data needs upfront and allowing for more thorough analysis .
The results also suggest online coaching might be particularly attractive to a younger cohort with higher drinking scores , the implications of which could be explored further . It ’ s all about options . Regardless of your age and score , if you want to talk to
‘ If you ’ ve got a Fitbit or if you ’ ve downloaded Mindspace or something similar then you ’ ve already bought into the idea that tech solutions can support behaviour change .’
someone about your drinking and you ’ re not comfortable approaching a face-to-face service think about going online . Our evidence suggests it ’ s on a par with F2F , and there ’ s no better place than your own home , is there ?
For more information on our coaching service visit : https :// drinkcoach . org . uk / onlinecoaching-counselling-appointmentsfolder-only
Angela Calcan is operations manager at Humankind
Alexander Sikov / Dreamstime . com