On television few nights ago, someone made reference to the flying Dutchman and I wondered where the legend had originated.
In pre-internet days, if I didn't have an encyclopedia around the house, I would have been forced to wait until I could get to a library.
This time, however, I switched on the Kindle Fire I keep next to the bed (it's useless for reading books as it weighs about as much as the half the Encyclopedia Britannica) and satisfied my curiosity at Wikipedia in under a minute.
Sometimes I wonder how we got through life before the internet and in particular, how many of those stray questions that float through our minds did we ignore because it was too inconvenient to track down the answers.
The internet is a bonanza of information – easy to find and (often but not always) easy to use.
So today, I have a list of good websites that are particularly useful to old people. All but one or two are related to health but in future, I'll list some other kinds that are worth keeping bookmarked.
All these have been selected and checked for quality and reliability following these criteria:
• Authoritative in their field
• Easy to use
• Elder specific or highly useful to elders
• Free of charge
No services are perfect but these should provide or point you toward good information you can use.
IDENTITY THEFT HELP
Even though identity theft has been commonplace for more than a decade, repairing your credit is still a horrendous procedure that can take years. I say “still” because even though the crime is a growth industry, banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions make it as difficult as possible to correct.
There are many precautions you can take to help prevent ID theft - this is one I was surprised to find that many people do not know about.
In the U.S., each of the three major credit bureaus - Transunion, Equifax and Experian - are required to give everybody ONE FREE credit report a year. So here is how to track credit activity you might not otherwise learn about until too late:
- Order a free credit report from Transunion
- Four months later, order one from Equifax
- Four months later, order one from Experian
- That way, three times a year you can check to see if there is any activity that you did not authorize or initiate such as a credit or loan application
Mark your calendar for the year anniversary of each one and order your annual free report.
It's not foolproof and it doesn't prevent ID theft but it does give you a big leg up to know early if someone has been trying to use your identity.
MY SOCIAL SECURITY
At the Social Security website, you can sign up for My Social Security. This is a permanent, secure account where you can, among other services, get replacement Social Security and Medicare cards, change address and phone number, sign up for or change direct deposit and a host of other services.
Even if you do not yet receive Social Security benefits, you can create a My Social Security account to track your annual deposits, get estimates of future benefits, follow your application when the time comes.
You can read about My Social Security and sign up for it at this web address.
At the Medicare website, you can create a My Medicare account – a free, secure service for accessing personalized information about your Medicare benefits and services.
It is particularly helpful each year during the open enrollment period so that you can compare your current coverage with what new is being offered, withdrawn or changed for the new year.
You can learn more about My Medicare and sign up at this web address.
HELP WITH MEDICARE
Medicare is a horrendously complex program with more rules and regulations than any one elder can keep track of. I've been surprised at how good the Medicare help line can be, but I have also been led astray a few times.
There is another way to get help both in general and with answers to specific questions. It is called the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) which provides free, in-depth, one-on-one counseling and assistance to Medicare beneficiaries, families, friends and caregivers.
The volunteers are carefully trained and must attend ongoing education programs and meetings. SHIPs operate in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
You can find the phone number and website address for the SHIP in your state here.
HOSPITAL SAFETY SCORE
Since 2001, the Leapfrog Group has conducted a semi-annual survey of 2500 U.S. hospitals, grading each one for safety from A to F. Here is the most recent distribution of letter grades.
You can search for your area hospitals' grades by city/state or Zip Code. There is a lot of good explanation of how the grades are determined, what hospital safety involves and what you can do to stay safe when you or a loved one face a hospital stay.
You will find all that here.
As, in recent years, patients have been encouraged to take a more hands-on approach to their healthcare, the number of sources for good information are growing. One of the best is Pro Publica which, so far, has four projects of searchable health data to help inform patients about their care providers.
PRO PUBLICA PRESCRIBER CHECKUP
There are serious safety concerns with prescribing certain tranquilizers to elders and until 2011, Medicare did not pay for such drugs as Valium, Xanax, Ativan and others. Now they are among the most prescribed medications Part D pays for.
CMS released Part D prescribing data for the 2013 and Pro Publica turned it into a database where you can find and compare physicians and other prescribers of a variety of drugs. Plus a lot of good explanation. You will find it all here.
PRO PUBLICA DOLLARS FOR DOCTORS
If you follow that kind of news, you know that some physicians have become notorious for taking thousands of dollars from pharmaceutical and medical device companies in exchange for dubious consultation.
These companies are now required by law to release details of their payments to a variety of doctors and U.S. teaching hospitals for promotional talks, research and consulting, among other categories.
You can now find this information in an easy-to-use tool at Pro Publica to search for general payments (excluding research and ownership interests) made from August 2013 to December 2014.
You will find that here.PRO PUBLICA NURSING HOME INSPECTION DATABASE
As Pro Publica explains, you an use this tool to compare nursing homes in a state based on the deficiencies cited by regulators and the penalties imposed in the past three years.
You can also search over 60,000 nursing home inspection reports to look for trends or patterns.
As with all the Pro Publica health databases, there is ample explanation of how to use the tools and what the data means. You will find the Nursing Home Inspection information here.
PRO PUBLICA DIALYSIS FACILITIES TRACKER
This database will help you assess the quality of care at dialysis clinics. You can learn how often patients have been hospitalized or have reported certain kinds of infections or been placed on a transplant list.
In time, I will put together others lists of good informational websites, not always related to health. You are welcome to make suggestions and can do that using the “Contact” link at the top of each blog page. Publication is at my discretion.