Monthly Archives: November, 2010

Internet Diseases – Do You Have It?

Health-related matters take up 2% of all queries on the search engines,  so its not surprising that there are a variety of internet-related ailments that can result out of accessing health web-sites! (No prizes for guessing the most common topic on search engines on the Net).

Here’s the low-down on  the most common internet-caused afflictions:

Internet addiction has been around for years. How do you know if you’re already addicted or rapidly tumbling toward trouble? Take this Internet Addiction Test here.

Cyberchondria (aka internet self-diagnosis) is another condition first coined in 2000 and refers to  the practice of leaping to dire conclusions while researching health matters online. If that severe headache haunting you in the morning led you to the Web search-engine and convinced you that it is caused by a brain tumour, then the likely diagnosis is probably cyberchondria. People tend to look at the first few results in the search-engine and that froms the basis for them to probe further. For instance, a search on ‘headaches’ could lead to ‘brain tumours’ or ‘meningitis’. The phenomenon has become so pervasive that Microsoft did its own study on the causes of cyberchondria (see here).

Reading Health web-sites may lead to one imagining having various dire diseases!


Here’s some friendly advice: It takes years of medical training to adequately decipher fully what’s found on  web health-sites and to full appreciate its implications. While its good for people to know what’s going on in their body, make sure you look at reputable sites only and even then, look at them after your doctor has told you what you have .This will give you a reasonable launching pad to look at the likely possibilities of what condition you may have ( what doctors call differential diagnoses).

High Hospital Bills? Here’s How To Pay Less

There may be economic recession, but healthcare inflation goes on unbridled, with annual inflationary rates in excess of 10%! Often, I’ve been asked how to reduce medical bills once they are incurred. Of course, the best method is prevention. The next? Getting a good healthcare insurance cover (click here to know more).

But what happens when you’ve already incurred the bills? Here’s some pointers:

1.Choose when to be hospitalised – emergencies aside, its better to be admitted during office-hours and during weekdays. Why? Because many hospitals cut off ‘non-essential services’ after office-hours. You’ll be hard-pressed to find dieticians , physiotherapists and some specialists on weekends. It may seem unfair, but hospitals do charge an ‘overtime fee’ or surcharge if services are provided after office-hours.

2. Review the bill – go through the charges. Are they accurate? Extra charges and miscoding can occur, intentional or otherwise. If there are disputes, hospitals have standard grievance procedures (more of this in a future blog article) where such disputes may be resolved.

3. Negotiate – everything is  negotiable. Talk to the service provider to see if they will offer a discount for the various items charged on the bill, especially if you’re paying out of pocket. Some hospitals have  provision for a discount – if you ask for it.

4. Ask for a payment plan – if you cannot pay in a lump sum, ask for instalments. Some hospitals will allow this, at no interest charge. Put it in writing and if you cannot keep to the schedule, re-negotiate.

5. Charity begins not at home – many not-for-profit hospitals have a subsidy program or a foundation which will pay or subsidise for deserving cases. You will be interviewed by a financial counsellor who willmassess whether you deserve one. Such programs are understandably poorly publicised, so do not be afraid to ask.

6. Seek out support groups – especially cancer support groups. They will be well-placed to advise on charities or foundations who might be able to access funds.

7. Government assistance programs – many pension or annuity schemes will allow withdrawal for payments of critical illnesses. Yes, it will dwindle your savings, but at least you will not be deprived of adequate medical care.

Striking A Stroke Off Before It Strikes You – 4 Simple Tests

Some readers of this blog asked what they can do to prevent  a stroke from hitting them. Plenty! A very recent research study just released  in the British Medical Journal by 4 authors, one of whom is a Malaysian classmate of mine who now works in the UK, reveals 4 things that people can do to reduce the chances of getting a stroke by half.

The study, conducted in England involving 20,000 people over 11 years, showed that they could reduce the chances of getting stroke by 50% if they did all the following life-style measures:

  • not smoking
  • being physically active
  • limiting their alcohol intake to not more than 14 units a week
  • fruit and vegetable intake of at least five servings a day.

Apart from the above, it is well-known that the presence of the following risk-factors also predispose to stroke: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation (irregular heart-beats), heart disease and certain blood diseases which cause clotting.

One does need to realise, however, that some risk-factors cannot be changed or eliminated. Try changing your age (the chance of having a stroke approximately doubles for each decade of life after age 55), sex (more common in men), your relatives( your stroke risk is greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke) or the fact that you have had a previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA, or warning strokes)!

Is It A Stroke? 4 Simple Tests You Can Do


The whole idea of getting away from stroke is to eliminate as many of the above risk-factors as possible and to lead a healthy lifestyle.

See my related article “Mending A Stroke In Time”.

Some of the Best Tests are Low-Tech, Low-Cost

Its amazing the number of patients who demand that their doctors perform tests using the newest  high-tech equipment in the belief that “the latest is the best”. Come to think of it, even some doctors  believe in this too.

In  earlier blog postings, When The Latest Need Not Be The Best and  Why The Latest Heartscans are Popular…But Not Foolproof, I had highlighted the lack of necessity for doing high-fangled tests and the dangers associated with doing them. So much so, it looks counter-productive in terms of the risks outpacing the benefits.

It may come as a surprise to many that some of the most reliable tests can be low-tech and low-cost as well. Take the measuring tape and the weighing machine, for example. With these, you can obtain the body mass index and the waist-hip ratio, the latter as important as blood tests for cholesterol and sugar in determining a person’s likelihood of developing diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

The weighing machine is also useful for patients with heart or kidney failure who have already been put on treatment. Gaining just a couple of pounds can indicate an unhealthy buildup of fluids—a telltale sign that a patient is at risk of serious shortness of breath and other symptoms that could lead to a hospital admission. Information from the scale can lead to adjustments in diet, such as cutting back on salt, or medications to restore fluid balance without necessitating in-hospital treatment, This means extra savings in cost.

Now, a new study suggests cardiologists may want to add a stopwatch to their medical bag. More than half of patients who undergo open-heart surgery in the U.S. and Canada are at least 65 years old and growing numbers of them are in their 80s or even 90s. Timing how long it takes an elderly patient to walk five meters, or about 15 feet, significantly improves a doctor’s ability to predict whether a patient will be able to withstand the stress of surgery.

The Speed A Patient Walks May Determine Survival Chances After Surgery


This test, gait speed, has been used before to predict the frailty of elderly people. Now, it is used to see whether an elderly person can withstand heart surgery. Slow walkers—those who took longer than six seconds to cross the five-meter line—were about three times as likely to die or suffer such complications as a stroke or kidney failure and were twice as likely to have a prolonged hospital stay after heart surgery.(Read more on the study here).

In these days of rising healthcare costs within a recessionary landscape, it is indeed refreshing to note that some of the most useful tests need not be expensive and high-tech..

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