In conjunction with medical organizations and community leaders in Green County, University of Wisconsin professor Paul Smith has developed a program to facilitate effective communication between caregivers and medical professionals.

Smith, a professor in the department of family medicine, cited a survey conducted by the Aging and Disability Resource Center as one of the primary motivations behind the creation of this program.

“There was a survey in Green County, and the number one thing that came up as a challenge for caregivers was communication with healthcare professionals,” Smith said.

In most cases, these caregivers tend to be spouses, family members or close friends, and often times the caregivers don’t know how to ask for proper medication, accurately relay important medical information or find the best doctor for their specific situation, said Smith.

As a response to the survey results, the Aging & Disability Research Center teamed up with Smith to develop a program called “Care Talks” that would remedy these concerns.

Care Talks is a series of four two-hour workshops with small groups of caregivers aimed at training them in methods of effective communication with medical professionals.

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“The overarching goal of Care Talks is to build on current communication skills that caregivers already have and expanding those to be even more effective with people in the healthcare system,” Smith said.

The program, which is a part of the Community-Academic Aging Research Network in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, is operating out of local Aging & Disability Resource Centers in Green County.

In the development of Care Talks, Smith said he was inspired by the UW School of Pharmacy’s MedWise program which focuses on improving communication between patients and their pharmacists.

Smith is studying the results of the program, which is still ongoing. The study will examine the efficacy of the program on participating patients, caregivers and medical professionals.

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Nick Argeroudis, a former hospital administrator, and Lee Clay,  manager of a business specializing in caregiving and health care called Prevent Health Strategies, are teaching the Care Talks program.

Argeroudis said his professional life exposed him to the necessity of a program like Care Talks.

“As a hospital administrator, I was jubilant that there was a study being done at the university to see how patients communicate with caregivers,” Argeroudis said. “There’s a lot of confusion in how patients communicate with physicians and doctors. This is a huge step toward improving that.”

One of the most important lessons taught in the program is that it’s okay for patients or caregivers to fire their doctor and find another one, said Argeroudis.

Many of these individuals do not realize this was a possibility, Argeroudis said, and failed to seek better care options for themselves or their loved ones.

Moving forward, the Care Talks program will be adding more classes and offering expanded services. Future lessons will involve patients who have no caregiver so they will be able to communicate with their doctor and get the care they need, said Smith.

Ultimately, Argeroudis believes the human element of the program is the most rewarding part of teaching it.

“It’s so cool to see the light go on in these people’s eyes,” Argeroudis said. “I applaud the university for reaching out into the community.”