If you’re reading this, you probably don’t consider yourself illiterate. But the truth is, when it comes to your own health care, you might be – and it might be costing you.
According to the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, more than 3 million Texans are low health literate, costing them about $17 billion in additional medical expenditures annually.
On May 20, the United Way of Tarrant County and its Area Agency on Aging continued their fight against health illiteracy as part of the LIVE WELL health initiative by joining Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. in sponsoring the fourth annual Health Literacy Symposium.
“Lack of health literacy is highly correlated with poor healthcare outcomes,” said Don Smith, Area Agency on Aging Director. “The major goal of the four conferences that we’ve had is to better prepare healthcare professionals to communicate with patients in a way that improves healthcare outcomes.”
This year’s symposium, hosted by the University of North Texas Health Science Center, focused on unifying health literacy efforts across Texas.
“Everyone benefits from clear communication, and everyone is at risk for misunderstanding,” said keynote speaker Cindy Brach, Senior Health Policy Researcher at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
The symposium also featured Dr. Teresa Wagner, Director of Health Literacy at the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas.
“The American Medical Association has found that poor health literacy is a stronger predictor of a person’s health status than age, income, employment status, educational level or race,” Dr. Wagner said to the nurses, public health workers, doctors, social workers and medical students in attendance.
Dr. Wagner found her passion for health literacy as a graduate assistant in the School of Public Health at the UNT Health Science Center. She became involved in health literacy research sponsored by United Way, and discovered the profound effect low health literacy has on patient understanding, compliance and outcomes.
“Communication problems are the most common cause of medical errors, and medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in this country,” she said.
The United Way of Tarrant County is thankful to partners like UNT Health Science Center, and champions like Dr. Wagner, for joining in efforts to make Tarrant County a place to LIVE WELL.