Unifying health literacy efforts across Texas

Cindy Brach
Cindy Brach

By Alex Branch

A national health literacy expert who helps increase patients’ comprehension of complex health information will be the keynote speaker at the 4th annual Health Literacy Symposium on Friday at UNT Health Science Center.

Cindy Brach, MPP, Senior Health Policy Researcher at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, helped create the Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit. Health care providers use the toolkit to more effectively communicate health information to patients.

Health literacy reflects a person’s capacity to fill out complex forms, manage chronic diseases or properly take medications. One-third to one-half of the U.S. population is estimated to have a low level of health literacy.

The Universal Precaution strategy assumes that all patients have low health literacy. Prior to its development, health care providers often tested patients to determine health literacy, a process that could shame patients with low literacy, said Teresa Wagner, DrPH, Director of Health Literacy at the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas.

Even people with high health literacy can struggle to process and comprehend information in upsetting or stressful circumstances, she said.

“You can be a very well-educated person, and the moment you receive a dire medical prognosis your health literacy plunges,” said Wagner, who is a UNTHSC doctoral graduate and a speaker at the symposium. “By simplifying communication with all patients you minimize the risk of miscommunication.”

UNT Health Science Center launched its health literacy project in 2013 through a grant from United Way of Tarrant County. As part of the project, the Health Science Center also has conducted health literacy training in public libraries and clinical settings.

This year’s symposium aims to unify health literacy efforts throughout Texas. The event is expected to draw about 215 representatives from health organizations across the state. For more information or to register, visit the event website.

Erin Carlson, DrPH, UNTHSC Assistant Professor of Health Management and Policy, is the principal investigator on the project.

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