Health Coaching and Unlicensed Medical Practice

Health Coaching and Unlicensed Medical Practice

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    In today’s video, we discuss legal issues related to health coaching and unlicensed medical practice.

    I’m Michael H. Cohen, founding attorney of the Cohen Healthcare Law Group. We help healthcare industry clients just like you navigate healthcare and FDA legal issues so you can launch, or continue to scale, your health and wellness product or service.

    Consider Joe, a health coach who has many certifications as well as celebrity clients.

    Three years ago, Joe left his chiropractic practice and built a virtual coaching practice in which he teaches lifestyle, nutrition, behavioral modification, and a bunch of wellness approaches. Good for Joe, I believe in it.

    When Joe articulates his philosophy, it’s spellbinding.  Joe knows his stuff.  He says that treating with drugs and surgery as your go-to is damaging.  Not for every situation. He says a lot of people are in some kind of health crisis; we got a medical system that focuses on treating diseases; and people don’t know how to stay healthy.  He says there’s a lot more to health than cracking backs or seeing people in the emergency room.  He talks a lot about detox, and good food, environment, maximizing your immune system, providing the building blocks to good health.

    One thing Joe does do is read your labs.  Because he’s trained as a chiropractor, he’s got a clinical mind and he’s got training in functional medicine.

    Joe has watched our videos or read our healthcare law blog posts.  He comes to us asking for just a simple consent.  You can get consents off the Web, but he’d rather hear from an expert. Okay, good for Joe, glad to have him.

    Now, we do have some hard news to break to Joe from the perspective of lawyers.  We believe in him we believe in his approach to health and wellness.  We use similar approaches ourselves. We walk our health talk.

    The problem is that healthcare law divides health and wellness providers into two basic types: licensed and non-licensed.  You’re either functioning as a licensed practitioner within your scope of practice—for example, as a licensed MD, or a licensed chiropractor, acupuncturist, psychologist, dentist, registered dietician, or some other licensed category; or not.

    If you’re licensed but not an MD, and operating outside your scope of practice, that can be considered practice of “medicine.”  So, for example, if you’re a licensed chiropractor yet you say that you practice “functional medicine,” essentially, you’re broadcasting that you practice medicine.

    Now this is risky, or less risky, depending on the state you’re in, but the basic lay of the land is the same: medicine is medicine and if you say “functional medicine,” you can’t blur the second word and cough over and pretend you didn’t say it.

    We talk on our blog and in other videos about State regulation of nutrition and dietetics, and this is another area to watch for and the license of psychology.  But in a nutshell, a main challenge Joe is going to have, besides promoting a functional medicine approach as a chiropractor, is that he wants to review labs—and typically that would be considered unlicensed practice of medicine especially if he says all he’s doing is coaching.

    We’re not saying you can’t be a health coach.  There are national organizations dedicated to promoting the idea of health coaching and promoting the idea that there is a range of activities one can carve out below the radar of “medicine.”  But: there’s a slippery slope, a blurred line between those activities that require a license, and those that don’t.

    And you don’t eviscerate this line, simply by hiring a lawyer to draft a simple “just disclaimer.”  That would be like going in, guns blazing, to rob a bank, all the while carrying a large sign which says: DISCLAIMER: This is not a bank robbery (but please keep your head down while we dip into the cash register, because the guns are loaded).

    Some things you can disclaim, some things you can’t. That is a bank robbery. The art is knowing the difference.  That’s why you owe it to yourself to get professional advice.  It’s like the old story of the engineer who charges $10,000 to get a train moving again and all he does is come with a hammer and fine one nail that’s out of place.  And he hammers it in and the train moves. When he’s asked how he could charge 10K for that activity, he says: “it’s $1 for tapping, and $9,999 for knowing where to tap.”  Thank you, Brian Tracy for that story, and may we thank the people who gave you that story.

    And thank you for watching. If you still have questions, click on the link below,, to send us a message or book an appointment. Here’s to the success of your healthcare venture, we look forward to speaking with you soon.


    • I would definitely recommend. I needed direction regarding the FDA and how the rules would affect my business. Responsive, accessible, and knowledgeable.

      Richard Freedland
      Richard Freedland GRAMedical, CEO
    • Impressive credentials are only overshadowed by their clear awareness of practical strategies to help Physicians navigate modern healthcare and achieve successful outcomes.

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      James Riviezzo Practice On Your Terms

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