Blood Pressure Screenings: How to get them for little or no cost

June 28, 2013

About 1 in 3 U.S. adults–an estimated 68 million—have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Blood pressure is measured by the force of the pressure of blood against the artery walls as it circulates through the body. Referred to as the “silent killer,” high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke without showing any signs or symptoms. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death and strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Many people don’t know they have high blood pressure, which is why it is important to get your blood pressure checked. Even if you have been tested and don’t have high blood pressure, regular screening is important because it helps detect risk factors for heart disease in its earliest stages, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA recommends blood pressure screenings at each regular healthcare visit or, starting at age 20, at least once every 2 years if your blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg.

The best defense against high blood pressure is preventive treatment. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the following therapies are associated with reductions in blood pressure:

  • Reduction of dietary sodium intake
  • Potassium supplementation (remember to talk to your doctor before taking any new supplements)
  • Increased physical activity, weight loss
  • Stress management
  • Reduction of alcohol intake

 

There are many risk factors that can be managed to help lower your blood pressure. The CDC offers an extensive list of preventive steps you can take to reduce your risk of high blood pressure, but some of the most common methods include eating a healthy, low-sodium diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and being physically active.

There are many places where you can get your blood pressure screened for free or at a low cost. Many businesses have blood pressure machines you can use. Some examples of free testing areas are:

  • Local drugstores and pharmacies –many of them have blood pressure machines located in the pharmacy area
  • Larger grocery stores –their blood pressure machines are also usually stationed near the pharmacy
  • Some employers offer free blood pressure screenings at on-site health and wellness fairs –make sure to take advantage of these if they’re available to you
  • Fire stations
  • Check your city or county community events calendar –many places like libraries, community centers, and more hold free blood pressure screenings

Although not always the most low-cost resource for blood pressure screening, the best place to get your blood pressure tested is often your doctor’s office.  This routine test is generally part of your doctor appointment.  Getting tested at your doctor’s office has many benefits, particularly that the test is being done by a medical professional and that your results are being recorded in your medical charts. But be aware that some studies have shown that blood pressure readings tend to be higher when being screened in a doctor’s office, according to Mayo Clinic. This is called “white coat hypertension” because some patients feel more stressed in a doctor’s office, which can cause their blood pressure levels to spike.


Why Get Tested for HIV?

June 26, 2013

June 27th is National HIV Testing Day. While the thought of getting an HIV test 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, and they’re also a risk of unknowingly infecting others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled a list of behaviors that can increase your risk of contracting HIV. If you answer yes to the behaviors included on the list, the CDC recommends getting tested for HIV.

Regardless of whether you engage in the activities on the CDC’s list, there are many other reasons to get tested for HIV. Getting tested will give you peace of mind because you’ll know your HIV status.  You’ll also have an up-to-date, accurate HIV status to share with your partner(s), which can make them feel more comfortable.  If you do test positive, you can talk to your doctor and begin a treatment plan.  And if you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, you can take steps to have a healthier baby—medical care and certain drugs given during pregnancy can lower the chance of a woman passing HIV to her baby.

Resources for HIV Testing:

  • Your primary care doctor. Don’t currently have a doctor lined up? If you are a Health Advocate member, give us a call for help finding a local, in-network doctor. If you’re not a Health Advocate member, you can also call Health Proponent to get connected with a primary care physician.
  • HIVtest.org can also help you find an HIV testing location.
  • The AIDS Service Organization provides the ASO Finder, which you can use to locate resources for testing and counseling.

According to Aids.org, it can take up to six months for HIV 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.  This way, you can be certain your test results are accurate.

Don’t let fear of the disease stop you from getting tested. Use National HIV Testing Day as a reminder to make your health a priority and get tested for HIV. Remember, you’re not just doing it for yourself –you’re also doing it for the sake of those you love.


Stay Safer on the Road this Summer

June 25, 2013

Every year the National Safety Council (NSC) designates June as National Safety Month, a program designed to raise awareness for practicing safety at work, at home, and on the road. With the summer season here, it means a higher volume of traffic on the roads –due to people traveling for vacations, and younger people driving to and from their summer jobs. According to the NSC, motor vehicle crashes are the 9th leading cause of death globally, and distracted driving is estimated to be a factor in 25% to 50% of all traffic crashes. Many of these accidents may have been avoided by following these recommended tips to ensure that you get to your destination safely. These tips can help you stay safer on the road:

  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages and drive, EVER!
  • Follow the speed limit.
  • Don’t use your cell phone while driving. That text message can wait. Also, texting while driving is illegal in most states.
  • Make sure your car is in roadworthy condition—this can help you avoid accidents and/or tickets.
  • Make sure all mirrors and controls are set prior to beginning your trip.
  • Wear your seatbelt; it can save your life.
  • Maintain a safe following distance. Leave two car lengths in between your car and the car in front of you.

Seat belts save lives.
The law requires that all vehicle occupants wear an appropriate seat belt. According to the NSC, wearing seat belts reduces the risk of death in motor vehicle crashes by up to 45%. Seat belts prevent 99% of passengers from being ejected in a crash.

Are you too drowsy to drive?

Did you know that drowsiness can impair judgment, performance, and reaction times the same way alcohol and drugs can? The National Sleep Foundation’s poll on the effects of sleep deprivation while driving showed that 37% of Americans admitted to falling asleep at the wheel this past year.

Here are some signs that you might be too tired to drive:

  • Having trouble staying focused, keeping your eyes open, and/or keeping your head up.
  • Yawning and/or repeatedly rubbing your eyes.
  • Drifting from your lane, missing signs or exits, and/or tailgating.
  • Relying on turning up the radio or rolling down the windows to keep yourself alert.
  • Having a slower reaction time to things happening on the road.

For more information concerning road safety, visit these websites:

The National Safety Council –http://www.nsc.org/pages/home.aspx

The National Sleep Foundation – http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/drowsy-driving


Protect your skin from the sun

June 21, 2013

Plus, resources for free or low-cost skin cancer screenings

 

Finally, summer is here!  The weather is warming up, the days are longer and there’s more time to spend outside enjoying fun activities like swimming, barbecuing, going to the beach or biking. But if you are going to be out in the sun, you need to stay safe.  Too much exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays is the number one cause of skin cancer. Some people think about sun protection only when they spend a day at the lake, beach or pool. But sun exposure adds up day after day, and can become evident on our skin in the form of wrinkles and age spots.

Staying in the shade is the best way to limit your UV exposure. But if you are going to be in the sun, remember these tips to help defend against skin damage:

  • Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater at least 30 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply at least every 2 hours after first application, or more if you are sweating or swimming.
  • Wear sunglasses with total UV protection.
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats.  If you already have sunburn, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to prevent further skin damage.
  • Avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible during peak UV radiation hours, between 10 am and 2 pm.
  • Perform self-examinations on your skin regularly to become familiar with any existing growths (such as moles) and to notice any changes or new growths.

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types. More than 3.5 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the United States–that’s more than all other cancers combined.

Most skin cancers can be detected early through skin examinations. Both regular exams by your doctor and checking your own skin frequently can help you find any new skin or mole changes.

On a budget?  These resources may be able to help you find free and low-cost skin cancer screenings:

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) offers a program to find free skin cancer screenings in your area. Their mission is to reduce the number of deaths from skin cancer in the U.S.  by educating the public about skin cancer risks and providing free screenings to catch skin cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages.  The AAD has conducted more than 2.3 million screenings since 1985. Visit http://www.aad.org/scs/search/default.aspx for more information.

The Skin Cancer Foundation’s “Road to Healthy Skin” Tour is making its way across the U.S. for the sixth year in a row. The mobile tour, which holds its screenings at Rite Aid stores, kicked off in the New York City area in May for Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and the tour is currently making its way across the country over the next four months. Check the tour schedule to see if they will be visiting a Rite Aid in your community: http://www.skincancer.org/events/tour

The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) offers free skin cancer screenings. In 2011, ASDS members performed more than 2.6 million skin cancer treatment procedures. To find a location near you, go to http://www.asds.net/find_volunteer.aspx

Also, check out the dermatology departments at your local hospital, clinics and cancer centers, as they may also conduct free skin cancer screenings.

And finally, don’t forget to be “sun smart”—help keep your skin healthy by checking yourself once a month for new or suspicious moles, spots, or other growths.


Give Dad the Gift of Health for Father’s Day

June 12, 2013

Not sure what to get Dad for Father’s Day? Do something different–rather than giving him the usual ties or power tools, give him the gift of health with a membership to Health Proponent. The price is right, too—membership is just $29.95 a year.

What is Health Proponent?

Need help finding a medical or dental provider?  Or estimating costs of a treatment or procedure?  Want help understanding or filling out paperwork?  Are there errors on your hospital bill, or did your claim get denied?  Do you need a second opinion?  Were you hit with a large hospital bill that you can’t afford?  Health Proponent can help with these things and more.

Health Proponent’s driving force is a team of Personal Health Advocates.  You will be assigned your own Personal Health Advocate, who is typically a registered nurse supported by medical directors and a highly trained benefits and claims specialist.  When you call Health Proponent, the Personal Health Advocate will listen to you, evaluate your issue, and will be your advocate while working to resolve the problem.  You’ll get a real person for real help—no endless phone transfers or aggravating recorded messages.

Your Personal Health Advocate can work on a variety of cases for you ($99 per case).  Your Personal Health Advocate can save you time, stress, and money by tackling denied insurance claims, scheduling appointments with hard-to-reach specialists, finding eldercare services for you or a loved one, addressing medical billing errors, securing second opinions, clarifying coverage plans, and obtaining cost estimates.

Another big way that your Personal Health Advocate can help save you money is with Medical Bill Saver, which can potentially save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  If you have an uncovered medical or dental bill of at least $400, your Personal Health Advocate can attempt to negotiate that bill at no up-front cost to you.  If your Personal Health Advocate successfully reduces the cost of that bill, Health Proponent will share in 25% of the savings.

Your membership allows you access to a variety of online resources available to you as a member of Health Proponent, such as price estimator tools and more.

Become a member today

If you wish to purchase a Health Proponent membership for Dad for Father’s Day (or for yourself or another loved one), call 1-866-939-3435 to join.  You can also visit www.HealthProponent.com for more information.  There’s even a 30-day money back guarantee on the membership fee, so you have nothing to lose—and so much to gain—by trying Health Proponent!


Take the Bite Out of Dental Costs

June 7, 2013

With so many medical costs on the rise, it’s no surprise the cost of dental care is rising, too. Having to pay hundreds of dollars for a root canal can be just as painful as the procedure itself. Even those who have dental insurance are feeling the effects of higher dental costs. Luckily, these useful tips may be able to help you “take a bite” out of the dentist’s bill:

Call your local dentists. Some dentist offices offer income-based fees. Try reaching out to offices that are affiliated with your city or county government. You can also check out the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website, http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/  to find federally-funded facilities that offer dental care at a reduced rate.

Go to college. Many colleges and universities that have dental programs offer clinics that provide care at a reduced cost.  Typically these clinics are run by senior dental students who are supervised by licensed professionals. The cost savings could be substantial! For example, x-rays and a crown at a dentist’s office might be priced around $1000, but you may pay only half of that for the same procedures at a dental school clinic.  And if you’re looking for a less intensive appointment, such as  a simple cleaning, look to local colleges that offer dental hygiene training programs where supervised students can perform cleanings at a lower price.

Look for free dental clinics. These clinics are usually run by churches or local non-profit agencies.  They may ask for a donation, but will perform most basic procedures for free. Check out your local United Way chapter to direct you to free or low-cost dental resources: http://www.LiveUnited.org

Enroll in clinical trials. Clinical trials can be for treatment, prevention, diagnostic, or screening. In many cases, trials require that you have a specific oral, dental, or craniofacial condition.  The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research sometimes conduct clinical trials regarding dental conditions. Researchers may provide clinical trial participants with free or low-cost dental care for the condition they are studying. Visit http://www.clinicaltrials.gov to look into clinical trial opportunities.

Seek out free dental care for children. TheChildren’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) helps uninsured children under age 19 obtain dental care. Be aware that dental services covered under CHIP vary from state to state. Medicaid is another state-run program that can offer low-cost dental services to children and families.

To learn more about how to find affordable healthcare coverage, check out The Healthcare Survival Guide: Cost-Saving Options for the Suddenly Unemployed and Anyone Else Who Wants to Save Money. The book, written by Health Advocate cofounders Martin Rosen and Abbie Leibowitz, M.D., lists a wide variety of resources to help those who have lost their employer-paid healthcare—or those who want to reduce costs—find affordable healthcare coverage and health services. You can download the book for free at www.HealthcareSurvivalGuide.com.


Be Prepared to Help Others: Learn CPR!

June 7, 2013

Anyone can learn CPR. CPR, which stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is a life-saving emergency procedure used when an individual’s heart stops beating due to sudden cardiac arrest. The Mayo Clinic defines sudden cardiac arrest as “the unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness…[that] usually results from an electrical disturbance in your heart that disrupts its pumping action, stopping blood flow to the rest of your body.”

CPR can be used to keep the blood circulating and preserve brain function until medical help arrives.  Sudden cardiac arrests are more common than you may think. According to the American Heart Association (http://www.heart.org), nearly 383,000 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests occur yearly, with 88 percent occurring at home. This alarming statistic hits “close to home,” and the life you save with CPR could very well be that of someone you love.

Most people feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they do not know what to do.  In honor of National CPR Week (June1-June 7), consider becoming CPR certified so that you know what to do should an emergency arise.  Here’s where you can find free or discounted CPR classes and other helpful CPR-related resources:

Your workplace.  Knowing CPR is an important part of learning first aid in the workplace, so many employers offer free CPR classes to their employees or pay for employees to attend CPR classes taught by other groups. Contact your company’s HR department for information about available CPR classes.

Nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) or the Red Cross teach CPR classes. Check out the websites http://www.heart.org  or http://redcross.org to find out when and where classes are being held in your area.

Also, in honor of National CPR Week, this year the American Heart Association is calling on all Americans to learn how to perform hands-only CPR. They use a one-minute video to teach the use of hands-only CPR (also known as compression-only CPR) to the beat of the classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive.” The video can help you learn how to take quick action if you see a cardiac arrest emergency happening, which can more than double a victim’s chance of survival.  View the video here: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/CPRAndECC/HandsOnlyCPR/Hands-Only_CPR_UCM_440559_SubHomePage.jsp

Local community centers.  Hospitals, school districts, fire departments, and community colleges often offer CPR classes as a public service to the community.  Contact your local groups directly or check community bulletin boards or websites to find out the times, costs, and locations of the classes.

CPR apps. There are inexpensive apps available for Apple iPhone and Google Android smartphones that can provide concise and clear first aid and CPR instructions. Although using apps does not get you CPR certified, they can at least give you very helpful information that may even help save a life.

Looking for more ways to be heart-healthy, or help your loved ones be heart-healthy? Consider making an appointment with your doctor or a registered dietitian to help you eat healthier and learn ways, such as modifying your diet or starting an exercise regimen, to keep your heart healthy. Don’t currently have a doctor or dietitian?  If you are a Health Advocate member, you can reach out to one of our Personal Health Advocates to help you find a local, in-network medical provider who can help you meet your healthy goals.