Organize your medical info with AHRQ’s free wallet card

June 30, 2011

Whether you have many different medications you regularly take or you only take a few medications, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), part of the US Department for Health & Human Services, can help you keep this information handy and well-organized.  This week, they introduced a printable, free-to-consumers wallet card on which you can write all the medications you’re taking (including over-the-counter drugs, prescription medications, vitamins and herbal supplements).

The wallet card, divided into six different sections, also includes space for you to write down your allergies and/or any medications you should not be taking, your current medical conditions, your blood type, your contact information, and the vital details of all your  current medications (what color is the pill, what times of day do you take it, what condition it treats, and anything you shouldn’t take the drug with).

This wallet card can not only help you keep your prescriptions straight, but it also provides valuable information at a glance to emergency personnel in the event that you need emergency medical help and are unable to communicate your current health conditions, allergies, and medication regimen.  It can also be a helpful tool to use while you’re dining out or when you need to give information to a doctor or pharmacist.

The wallet card is placed at the bottom of a brochure that talks about how to take medicines safely.  To download the wallet card and brochure in PDF format, click here.  Or, click here to email the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse to request that up to 10 free booklets be mailed to you.

For tips and information about how to take medicine safely, visit and


How to reduce your risk of foodborne illness at your 4th of July barbecue

June 29, 2011

Barbecues, pool parties, and other outdoor celebrations can be some of the most enjoyable moments of summer.  But these get-togethers tend to involve food, and bringing food outside can increase the potential for foodborne illnesses.  Just in time for the July 4th holiday, the Food Safe Families campaign–a multimedia public service campaign run by the Ad Council, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the FDA and the CDC–is debuting.  Through a series of humorous  public service announcements that you can see soon on TV (or click here to watch online), the campaign’s goal is to raise awareness of foodborne illness while helping to educate consumers about what actions they can take to reduce their risk.

The campaign advocates the following safe food handling procedures:

  • Clean: Anyone preparing food should use soap and water to wash their hands, clean kitchen surfaces like countertops, and clean any utensils to be used.
  • Separate: Use different cutting boards to ensure that raw meats stay separated from other foods you’re preparing.
  • Cook: Use a food thermometer to make sure you’re cooking foods to the proper temperature.
  • Chill: Quickly chill raw and prepared foods.

When you’re preparing meat and poultry for a delicious 4th of July cookout, also remember to keep these tips in mind:

  • Thaw your meat/poultry before cooking it so that it cooks more evenly.  You can thaw it slowly but safely in your refrigerator.  If you need to thaw it more quickly, you can use your microwave to defrost it, but only if it will be put on the grill immediately afterward.
  • Marinate meat or poultry in your refrigerator, not on your counter. 
  • If you’re going to be transporting food to another event or location, use an insulated cooler with ice packs; the cooler needs to keep your food at a temperature of under 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • When taking cooked food off the grill, put it on a clean platter.  Don’t re-use the same platter that had previously held raw meat or poultry.
  • Refrigerate any leftovers quickly, and throw out any food that’s been left out for over 2 hours.
  • Want more details on how to barbecue your food safely?  Click here!

Get more helpful tips on food safety by visiting

Tips for flying the (medically) friendly skies

June 28, 2011

Summer is a great time to take a relaxing getaway…although sometimes getting to your vacation destination is anything but relaxing, especially if you’re sick, disabled, or have special medical needs. In the past decade, so many new security measures have been introduced for travelers, especially for those traveling by plane. This past Sunday, a 95-year-old woman—a cancer patient—reportedly had to remove her adult diaper in order to get through TSA screening at the airport. Such security measures are often unanticipated by travelers, and the resulting extra, sometimes time-consuming screening procedures can make travelers feel annoyed, inconvenienced…and can even make them miss their flights. The below tips can help you better understand the policies and procedures you need to be aware of in order to bring your medical necessities on an airplane.

Understand what you can’t bring on your flight

The TSA offers this comprehensive list of items that are prohibited on flights. Luckily, the majority of this list doesn’t deal with medical products; the list is mostly made up of weaponry, chemicals (such as chlorine for pools or liquid bleach), flammable products (like gasoline and other fuels), and explosive materials. Note that the TSA prohibits spillable batteries in carry-on and checked luggage unless those batteries are in wheelchairs. They also prohibit aerosol products (except in toiletry and personal care products, in limited quantities) as well as gel shoe inserts. Shoes constructed with gel heels are allowed, although they must be removed and screened. You can’t bring razor blades in the form of box cutters and utility knives in carry-on baggage, but you can bring disposable razors and their cartridges.

Understand what you can bring—and the restrictions that come along with them

TSA says that their “checkpoint security screening procedures for persons with disabilities and medical conditions have not changed as a result of the current threat situation. All disability-related equipment, aids, and devices continue to be allowed through security checkpoints once cleared through screening.” They have also said that they are “continuing to permit prescription liquid medications and other liquids needed by persons with disabilities and medical conditions.” The key is knowing how to pack these items so that you can undergo quicker and more hassle-free screening procedures.

For carry-on baggage, use the 3-1-1 strategy to pack your liquids, gels, and aerosols. This means that your containers must each be 3.4 oz. or smaller; they must fit into one quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag; and you can only bring one of these bags in your carry-on (you will need to remove it from your carry-on luggage and place it in the security bin to have it screened). If you want to bring along products that are larger than 3.4 oz. each, you can pack them in your checked luggage.

There are certain medical and health-related products that are exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule. Prescription and over-the-counter medications (including eye drops, saline solution, and petroleum jelly); breast milk, baby formula and baby food if an infant or small child is traveling; life-support and life-sustaining liquids such as bone marrow, transplant organs, or blood products; medical or cosmetic augmentation devices such as mastectomy products and prosthetic breasts; and liquids like water, juice, or liquid nutrition products for use by a passenger with a disability or medical condition are all allowed in reasonable quantities that exceed 3.4 oz. You can bring frozen items along if they are frozen solid when presented for screening; if the frozen item is slushy, partially melted, or contains any liquid at the bottom of the container, then it must meet 3-1-1 requirements. These medical and health-related items do not need to be in the zip-top bag, but they must be declared for inspection at the checkpoint. Note that TSA officials may need to open these items to conduct additional screening on them.

TSA also allows a multitude of disability-related items to pass through security checkpoints.  These items include but are not limited to wheelchairs (and tools for their disassembly), scooters, crutches, canes, walkers, support braces and appliances, service animals, ostomy supplies, exterior medical devices, orthopedic shoes, baby monitors, CPAP machines and respirators, hearing aids, CO2 personal oxygen concentrators, personal supplemental oxygen, Braille note takers, and diabetes supplies and medications.

Casts and prosthetic devices are also allowed through security checkpoints. Some airports now employ CastScope technology, which allows TSA officials to verify that a cast or prosthetic does not contain a concealed threat; this technology, which uses backscatter X-rays, also helps to maintain the passenger’s dignity. CastScope sometimes requires multiple scans, but luckily each scan only takes approximately three seconds.

Screening tips for hassle-free travel

Know your rights regarding screenings and physical searches.  If you are asked to undergo a personal search, at any point in the process you have the option of remaining in the public area or asking to go to a private area for your personal search (if you refuse both options, you will not be allowed to fly). You should also be given the opportunity to have a private screening prior to the beginning of a pat-down inspection if the pat-down will require the lifting of clothing or the exposure of a medical device. If you need a travel companion to assist you during the screening, that is allowed, but that person will need to be re-screened after helping you. If you are in a wheelchair, you are allowed to request that you remain in the wheelchair if you are not able to stand or walk through the metal detector. You can also request a pat-down inspection instead of going through the metal detector, and you don’t need to disclose a reason why you’re requesting this. You may also ask the security officer to change their gloves prior to a pat-down, a physical inspection of your property, or anytime they’re handling your footwear.

If you are wearing an adult diaper, it may be best to use the restroom before entering the screening area (so as to avoid any potential issues like what the 95-year-old woman encountered earlier this week).

If you have limited space in your carry-on bag and particularly in your 3-1-1 zip-top bag, you don’t have to waste that space on food or drinks (unless they’re medically necessary). Once you are through the screening and security area, you are welcome to purchase food, beverages, and other items in the secure boarding area and bring them onto your flight. Are there items you’ll need on your trip, but won’t need until you arrive (such as sunscreen)? You can wait to purchase them until you’ve landed; that way you’re not taking up valuable 3-1-1 space with them.


Take The Test, Take Control: National HIV Testing Day

June 27, 2011

Today is National HIV Testing Day, which highlights the importance of getting tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But the sentiment behind National HIV Testing Day extends to every day. If you’re at risk of contracting HIV, getting tested for HIV and knowing your HIV status is important so that you and your partner(s) can stay healthy and informed.

So who’s at risk? Anyone can be at risk of contracting HIV if they’re not careful. If you’re sexually active and/or use recreational drugs, you should be tested regularly; additionally, if you’re considered high-risk (including but not limited to sexually active younger teenagers, men who have sex with men, sex workers, and those who snort or inject drugs with other people), it is especially important that you get tested regularly. Click here to see who’s most at risk.

While the thought of getting tested for HIV can be scary, what’s even scarier is not knowing your HIV status.  One in five Americans living with HIV is unaware that they have it; those people are not getting the care and treatment they need for HIV, and they’re also at risk of unknowingly infecting their sexual partners or anyone with whom they use recreational drugs.

There are two kinds of HIV tests available: antibody tests and viral load tests. These are blood tests, and generally you’ll get the test results back in a couple weeks. (There is also a quick-result oral swab test, which can give results in mere minutes, but is not available everywhere.) These tests can be taken anonymously or confidentially. Anonymous testing (not available in all states) is often free, doesn’t require or retain your personal information, and includes helpful pre-test and post-test counseling, while in confidential testing, the testing facility keeps your name on record and allows your test results to be released to limited entities (for instance, your insurance company).

There are many convenient resources available for HIV testing. If you’d like to get tested by someone you already know and are comfortable with, you can get tested for HIV by your primary care physician. If you would rather not go to your family doctor for HIV testing, there are numerous clinics nationwide that can administer HIV testing. You can use the following resources to locate a clinic near you:

 * The AIDS Service Organization provides the ASO Finder, which you can use to locate resources for testing and counseling.

* can help you find a testing location. 

You can also test yourself using FDA-approved self-test kits such as those made by Home Access, which are available in drugstores and pharmacies, although you’ll want to note that self-testing doesn’t give you the benefit of pre- and post-test counseling.

It can take up to six months for HIV to be able to be detected during testing. If you get tested before six months have passed since the last time you engaged in any activity during which you were at risk for contracting HIV, you should test again once that six month mark has passed so that you are 100% sure that your test results are accurate.

While the thought of getting tested for HIV can be scary and intimidating, especially if you haven’t done it before, it’s important to remember that having your test results allows you to become empowered. If your test results are positive, you can get started working with your doctor to come up with an HIV treatment plan that’s right for you, and you can inform any sexual or recreational drug use partners of your HIV status so that you can work together on methods to keep your partners safe. If your results are negative, you can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on learning about how you can practice safer sex and/or safer recreational drug use —and then the next time you undergo routine HIV testing, it likely won’t be such an intimidating process for you.

How to Get Healthcare When You’re Out of a Job (Without Robbing a Bank)

June 24, 2011

Earlier this month, James Verone walked into a North Carolina bank and handed the teller a note that read “This is a bank robbery. Please only give me one dollar.” No, this isn’t the doing of a man not of sound mind—rather, it’s the work of a man not of sound body, which was something he wanted to remedy. He committed his “robbery” in the hopes of going to prison, where he’d be able to take advantage of free healthcare. Verone had become unemployed a few years ago; as a result, he didn’t have healthcare, which he needed so that he could have various ailments—including a foot problem, disc problems, and a growth on his chest—finally fixed.

Verone’s not alone in his plight of being unemployed with no health insurance, but the path he took to attempt to get free medical care is unorthodox and not recommended. Below, check out some free and low-cost healthcare options you can take advantage of without a brush with the law:

  • Need to see a doctor, dentist, or behavioral health specialist? The National Association of Free Clinics can help. This national organization provides a wide range of health services to economically disadvantaged and predominately uninsured people. Their website,, allows you to search by state to find a convenient, local free clinic.
  • If a child needs to be vaccinated, the Vaccines for Children Program can help. This federally funded program provides no-cost vaccines to children who might otherwise not be vaccinated due to cost concerns.
  • The American Optometric Association can help with vision-related issues. They can provide public health services to uninsured and low-income families.
  • Senior citizens can use Benefits Check Up to assist them in finding programs that could pay for a portion of the costs associated with their essential health care, such as prescription drugs, utilities, and more.
  • Qualified patients who are having difficulty paying for necessary prescriptions can seek help from the Partnership for Prescription Assistance. This organization can help people obtain prescriptions at low cost—and often at no cost.
  • The National Organization for Rare Disorders helps uninsured and underinsured people—those whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low to afford their prescriptions–obtain life-saving and life-sustaining medications. Those affected by–or wanting to be screened for–cancer can seek help from a variety of organizations. The Avon Foundation Breast Care Fund links medically underserved women to resources such as screening services and breast health education, while the American Breast Cancer Foundation provides financial assistance to underinsured patients for breast cancer testing and other support services. The national, nonprofit organization Cancer Care provides professional support services at no charge to anyone affected by cancer; these programs include counseling, education, financial assistance and more.

Find more tips designed to help you save your money and your sanity while navigating the healthcare system at


PHA Case Study – Unreasonable balance for a surgery bill

June 24, 2011


Sharon had emergency surgery at an in-network facility, but was left with a large out-of-network balance on her bill because the on-call surgeon who performed the procedure was not in her plan’s network. Although the claim was already paid by her insurance company at the highest plan benefit level (90 percent of allowable). Sharon was still left with a $4,230 balance. Her Personal Health Advocate negotiated with the doctor to lower her payment to $2,000 and saved Sharon $2,230.

What The Healthcare Survival Guide Says

Step up and negotiate with your doctor or hospital to get a discount on your claims – 61 percent of patients who asked for a discount form their doctors got one (pg. 36). In some cases, hospitals offer a significant dollar or percentage discount if you pay cash (pg. 43). Keep track of the hospital care you receive; make a list of all your procedures, tests, medications and supplies. This will help you when you need to review your bills later. Double-check and question every charge. Overcharges such as being charged for the wrong number of days in the hospital are common (pg. 43).

For more in-depth advice on this topic, check out our blog post on negotiating with your doctor.

If you would like a free copy of The Healthcare Survival Guide: Cost-Saving Options for the Suddenly Unemployed and Anyone Else Who Wants to Save Money, you can download it at

The Challenge of Obesity – Workplace Strategies

June 17, 2011

In addition to playing a role in the development of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions, the toll obesity takes often extends to employers, costing ~$13 billion in medical costs and lost productivity each year. Factors are well documented – imbalanced diets, a lack of exercise, and stress – all contribute to one of the most common health threats in America. Recent studies also suggest that sedentary jobs, where little to no movement is required, are to blame as well. (Story here.)

While the legitimacy of latter has been debated, it would only benefit you and your employees to implement carefully planned wellness strategies. In encouraging a healthier lifestyle, wellness programs can help to reduce disability, absenteeism & lost productivity. It is also obvious, but important, to note that these programs should be aimed at all employees – singling out overweight workers can be discriminatory and stigmatizing. However, the program should address the aforementioned factors that contribute to obesity – diet, physical activity, and stress.

Brought to you by Health Advocate, here is a short-version checklist for workplace strategies to take on the challenge of obesity.

Build a Wellness Team – Enlist employees to participate from each level of your organization. These individuals can serve as ambassadors to the program and increase employee buy-in.

Tailor Activities to Needs – Learn about what lifestyle changes employees need to make and gauge enthusiasm. Which programs would be the most interesting to your employees?

Set Realistic Goals – Emphasis should be placed more on participation than weight loss. However, 10% weight loss is considered to be a significant lifestyle change.

Develop a “Culture of Health” – Provide a variety of options to appeal to the most employees possible. Provide healthier options in the cafeteria and vending machines. Provide de-stressing activities as options, such as Yoga classes after work.

Partner up with the Community – Monitor community wellness events and make employees aware of them. Look for local initiatives, as government and public agencies offer wellness toolkits and grants.

Communicate Effectively – Encourage health through all available mediums – intranet, posters, newsletters, etc. Emphasize the value of health.

Reward Employees – Be creative! Use t-shirts, moderate cash awards, public praise, paid days off, etc. as rewards.

Celebrate Group Success – Celebrate with congratulatory announcements or with healthy-food parties.

Click here to check out our full checklist and many of our other whitepapers on how to manage costs by promoting a mentally and physically healthy work environment for employees.

To stay up-to-date on health news, wellness tips, and cost-saving healthcare advice, you can follow us @HealthSurvival and ”like” our Facebook page here.