Health literacy empowers patients to make own decisions

A sad moment with his ailing father crystalized the value of health literacy for Dr. Michael J. Miller.

His father, suffering from Stage 4 heart failure, had exhausted his treatment options and his cardiologist suggested he enroll in a new treatment study, said Dr. Miller during his keynote address at the 2nd Annual UNT Health Science Center Health Literacy Symposium.

His father sought his son’s advice and showed him the study’s thick, complicated consent package. His father, Dr. Miller realized, didn’t understand a word of it.

“He didn’t understand anything about this study — the risks or the benefits,” Dr. Miller said. “They had taken away the man’s choice, essentially. Can we really place a value on the dignity of being able to make your own decisions?”

Dr. Miller, Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy, spoke to more than 150 representatives of the hospital industry and nonprofit and faith-based organizations at the symposium focused on improving health literacy in Tarrant County.

It is estimated that one-third to one-half of the U.S. population has a low level of health literacy, meaning they may have trouble filling out complex forms, managing chronic diseases or properly taking medications.

Dr. Richard Kurz, Dean of the School of Public Health, said the symposium provided attendees valuable skills and knowledge to help build health literate organizations in Tarrant County.

The symposium was co-sponsored by United Way of Tarrant County, its Area Agency on Aging, and Texas Health Resources.

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