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Healthcare, Explained

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When it comes to navigating the rugged, twisting pathway that is the United States healthcare system, patients have a lot to learn. Each curve in the road to wellness may look the same, or the signs may be unclear, and patients may feel uncomfortable asking physicians for directions.

The 190-staffed-bed University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington is hoping patients will let its new “Patient School” be their guide. “There are specific disease-oriented programs to teach people how to cope with things like hypertension or diabetes, but nothing more general about coping with the vagaries of a complex medical care system,” says Robert Trestman, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and director of UCHC’s Connecticut Health Initiative, a public healthcare outreach program.

The Patient School program aims to equip students with the basic skills needed to process health information, make the most of provider encounters and survive the emotional roller coaster ride that often accompanies illness. The goal is to produce “successful patients,” which Trestman defines as those who are prepared to work collaboratively with their healthcare providers, as opposed to being passive recipients. “The more active patients are, the more engaged they’ll be, and the more likely it is they’ll adhere to healthcare recommendations,” he says.

Thirty-one men and women ranging in age from 38 to 77 paid the $60 fee to enroll in the first five-week session held in March. A second session is planned for the fall. The program’s popularity has been apparent; a day after the Hartford Courant newspaper carried a brief article on the school, the class was booked solid.

The patient school idea grew out of UCHC’s community outreach programming. Faculty members developed the curriculum and teach the courses. UCHC has been approached by several states and corporations, even a representative of the World Health Organization, about expansion possibilities. The hospital eventually hopes to expand the content so the school covers more topics, such as interpreting health plan coverage lingo, and to hone the concept to be more patient specific. The school also may be made available to additional patients online or on DVD.

—Kara Olsen