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New 800 and 900 numbers for health questions.

Most of us with touch-tone phones know that we can get the status of our bank accounts at any time. We can also check on the weather in most major cities or receive useful information on a host of subjects-- usually at no cost.

For those willing to pay (sometimes dearly), more exotic services are available, including consultation with a psychic. Not so many of us know that health information is also readily available by phone, some of it free and some at a nominal charge.

Three such services offer consultation with a live professional at the other end "Ask-a Nurse," "Doctors by Phone," and "Pharmacy Question? Ask the Pharmacist." at any hour of the day or night. By calling 1-800-535-1111, one can find out whether the service is available locally. Registered nurses with an average of 10 years' experience in emergency or critical care, or occupational health, answer the calls. The 200 hospitals around the country that pay for the service find that it reduces the flow of calls to their emergency rooms and promotes the practices of their staff physicians.

The pharmacy service is available throughout the United States, also at any hour, every day, at a cost of $1.95 per minute (1-900-420-0275). The pharmacists are licensed in North Carolina and average seven-and-a-half years in practice. The most common questions are about side effects of medications and whether generic versions of a prescription are available.

"Doctors By Phone," although a pay service at three dollars a minute, could be an unusual bargain in medical consultation if one's call is brief. The operators of the service say that calls average five to six minutes. The service would seem to be a valuable one of the person who doesn't have a doctor or know where to find one at 3 a.m. Most of the doctors on call are board-certified specialists just starting their practices or completing specialized fellowships, often in internal medicine. The number is 1-900-77-DOCTOR.

Privacy and convenience may be the main reason that people use these services, but for many it may be just the desire for a human touch. Others may simply be reluctant to call their own doctor at night--assuming they know how to reach him outside office hours ! Calls to 800 numbers tend to peak between 6 and 10 p.m., so calling at other times of the day is more likely to get a quick response. When calling 900 numbers, listen carefully to the introduction that gives the cost and how long an average call will last. If one chooses to hang up immediately after this message, there is no charge.

Some referral services will inform the caller that they list practitioners who have paid to be included or who are affiliated with a particular hospital. If they do not, the caller should feel free to ask how the professionals are selected for the services.


* Motor vehicle accidents claimed fewer lives in 1991 than in any of the past 30 years--and it looks as if 1992 may be even better. Because alcohol is involved in the majority of auto fatalities, this would suggest that we're making headway with the drunk driving problem.

* Children who play with matches do not cause the typical home fire. Rather, defective home heating equipment is usually the culprit. Portable heating equipment and faulty fireplaces are the main offenders. Homeowners should keep portable heaters at least three feet from any inflammable materials and should turn them off at night or whenever they vacate the room. Furnaces need preventive maintenance, and flues and chimneys need periodic cleaning as well.

* One can best raise HDL, the "good" cholesterol, by regular exercise. The FDA has approved no drug yet to raise HDL significantly while lowering total cholesterol. A drink or two of alcohol daily can raise HDL somewhat, but the negative aspects of taking up drinking would seem to outweigh that benefit.

* Women who feel flabby during the winter months can take heart. A Tufts Medical School study shows that fat distribution shifts with the season among healthy postmenopausal women. Although their weight may not change, women have a significant redistribution of soft tissue with the seasons, becoming leaner all over in warm weather. Contrary to what might be expected, a decline in physical activity in the winter months does not appear to result in fat accumulation.

* The human body doesn't just store away as fat those calories consumed before bedtime. Rather, it burns them as needed. This doesn't apply, of course, if those late night snacks are in addition to one's regular diet.

* Americans ingest more than $800 million worth of antacids every year. They do a great job of putting out gastric fires caused by inordinate eating, but they also can impede the absorption of a number of drugs. Check with your pharmacist if you're taking antacids with other medication.

* Driving experts say that maximum control of the car is with hands at the nine and three o'clock positions on the wheel, contrary to what most of us were taught in the past.

* In most places in the United States, plain water is still the best beverage to drink when one is thirsty and dehydrated.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:"Ask-a-Nurse," "Doctors by Phone," and "Pharmacy Question? Ask the Pharmacist"
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Previous Article:More on those mysterious free radicals.
Next Article:Striking out against stroke.

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