Sun sets on commercial use of tanning beds

Western Australia has followed suit with the rest of the country and become the last state to ban the commercial use of tanning beds.

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New concerns over hip implants as patients return for replacements

A number of popular hip implants are in the health regulator’s sights, with more patients than expected ending up in hospitals needing replacements.

Medical Privacy in the Digital Wild

The uproar about Obamacare notwithstanding, I, for one, am thankful for health insurance. COBRA’s ridiculously expensive insurance offer following my lay off two years ago was a joke, so I resolved to go back to practicing DIY health care. Then along came Obamacare. As a frequent freelancer, I’m used to long stretches of time without health insurance, but this past year was different. For the most part, being covered has been a blessing.

For the most part. From the beginning there were several administrative glitches, the worst of which was being told on the day of an appointment that the doctor no longer carried my insurance, and unless I wanted to pay out of pocket, he wouldn’t be able to see me.

“But my tooth is killing me!” I cried. “Why didn’t someone call me?”

“Sorry,” said the receptionist, who clearly was not sorry.

This happened to me twice in 2015, with two different doctors. It was stressful enough to have to find care on the fly, but now I’m also concerned about the security of my medical records as they travel from one office to the next. If, as the Associated Press reported, Healthcare.gov initially shared our private information with Google, Twitter, Yahoo, etc., and if it’s true that health care organizations have not, by and large, built a secure infrastructure for our records, then what hope do we have for keeping our precious information safe?

Some doctors still maintain paper files on patients, some are migrating to digital, and others are fully online. Clearly there are plenty of fault lines in the system. The health care industry looks like one huge, lucrative data hunting ground for hackers.

HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed by Congress in 1996, is supposed to guarantee that

…health care providers and organizations, as well as their business associates, develop and follow procedures that ensure the confidentiality and security of protected health information (PHI) when it is transferred, received, handled, or shared. This applies to all forms of PHI, including paper, oral, and electronic, etc. Furthermore, only the minimum health information necessary to conduct business is to be used or shared.

According to a white paper by McAfee, the big cyber security company, “Patient confidentiality continues to grow as a leading concern for healthcare organizations.” A study conducted by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance (MIFA) found that more than two million patients were victims of identity theft in 2014. “Given the high volume of medical records and personal information leaked by healthcare providers and payers, organizations are now more focused on reducing how much unprotected PHI [Protected Health Information] they store and shrinking the target hackers go after so that fewer patients are exposed to the risks of medical identity fraud,” says Todd Feinman, CEO, Identity Finder LLC.

One way information leakage occurs is in the day-to-day communications among medical professionals. In fact, another study found that 90 percent of health care organizations do not use HIPAA-compliant messaging apps. According to Ben Moore, Founder/CEO of TelMedIQ, a company that provides HIPAA-compliant communications solutions to the health care industry, opportunities for security breaches abound in the “tens of millions of phone calls that occur every day between doctors, nurses, and other clinicians throughout practices, hospitals, and healthcare systems. There are also huge volumes of patient calls to doctors and practices, some of which will go to voicemail. Patients will often leave PHI, which are HIPAA protected; however, voicemails, unlike other forms of communication, are not protected.”

What we can do
After being dropped twice by doctors with no warning, I realized I was on my own. Ultimately we’re all on our own. It’s up to us, the health care consumers, to inform ourselves about what our doctors are doing to keep our medical records safe.

Erin Mackay, a health information technology specialist with the National Partnership for Women & Families, says the burden of protecting your sensitive personal information is on health care providers. She suggests changing doctors if you feel privacy standards are too lax.

If you have to leave a voicemail message for your doctor, do not mention any sensitive medical information. Remember, voicemails are not protected by HIPAA.

Protect the health information that you control. HealthIT.gov recommends the following:

  • If you store health information on your personal computer or mobile device, exchange emails about it, or participate in health-related online communities, be smart about it. Simple tools like passwords can help keep your health information secure if your computer is lost or stolen.
  • File a complaint. If you believe your information was used or shared in a way that is not allowed under the HIPAA Rules, or if you were not able to exercise your rights, you can file a complaint with your provider or health insurer. The notice of privacy practices you receive from them will tell you how to file a complaint. You can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights or your State’s Attorneys General Office.
  • If you believe that an online company that is not covered by HIPAA, such as a message board, has shared your health information in a way that conflicts with their privacy policy on their website, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

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Failed New Year’s Resolutions? It’s Not You, It’s Your Motivator

Every year, around mid-February, I start getting calls from new clients who feel fat, out of shape, guilty about slacking, and angry that this is the tenth or twentieth year their New Year’s resolution to lose weight and get in shape has failed miserably. They are demoralized, wondering what’s wrong with them. Some say they enjoyed running for the first minute or so, some simply hate the other people at the gym or the way sweating makes them feel; most tell me that they just have too much do and can’t fit it in any more — even though they wish they could.

I feel for all of them, because it’s not their fault: they’ve learned to create resolutions in a system that sets most up to fail. Whether our reason is the New Year, the onset of swimsuit weather, or the urging of health practitioners, most of us are driven to change our behavior by faulty motivators. If we are motivated to lose weight, get in shape, or even improve our health, our chances of sticking with our chosen program for more than a few weeks are dismal.

That’s right. It’s not you; it’s your motivator.

Research in behavioral economics (broadly, the study of psychological factors on decision making) suggests that smaller, immediate rewards (such as more energy or improved mood) are more motivating than larger rewards we have to wait to receive (such as avoiding a disease). The promise of future health benefits, however wonderful, are too abstract to overcome inertia and compete with the loud and unending demands of crammed to-do lists.

Yeah, but… Shouldn’t you really be exercising for your health? In an ideal world, sure. But even though better health is noble objective, it’s not a potent motivational force for many.

As a student, I was shocked into my current career as a motivation scientist by an exercise study I conducted involving recovered cancer patients. They all thoroughly enjoyed participating, and knew that exercise was good for their health. Yet after their commitment to our study ended, they stopped exercising. They cited scheduling conflicts — work deadlines, commitment to their kids, aging parents. Even for cancer survivors — a group we might think should be hyper-focused on achieving and maintaining “health” — this motivator didn’t make the cut when they returned to life outside the lab. In fact, studies show that even the elderly and chronically ill are more motivated by feeling and functioning better than better health!

Vague promises of future rewards like “health,” “weight loss,” or “fitness” may get us started; but they are not compelling enough to keep most of us moving toward them. And (this may come as a great relief) science has shown that willpower can only take us so far before it runs out.

So what does work?

A shift in motivation away from feeling like you “should” to feeling that you “want” to can make all the difference. In a University of Michigan study, participants who reported that their reason for exercising was to enhance their daily quality of life — to make themselves feel better every day–exercised 20 percent more over one year compared to participants with health-related goals, and 34 percent more than those whose goal was to lose weight.

This is not rocket science. If it helps us feels good, we’ll do it — we’re wired that way. Kent Berridge’s research on the neuroscience of reward would suggest that once we learn a positive effect from doing a behavior, we will keep wanting it, even unconsciously.

Your reason for adopting a new self-care behavior like exercise is everything when it comes to sticking with that New Year’s resolution. Ironically, when you reframe your motivation away from “future health” to “enjoying the immediate rewards,” you are more likely to achieve health and enjoy it for years to come. For this year’s resolutions, toss out your old, failed motivators and choose to enjoy the immediate well-being and energetic benefits that self-care brings.

If these ideas resonate with you and you want to evaluate your resolutions for 2016, I developed a free quiz that will give you a personalized report about how likely your resolutions are to stick this year.

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.