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Professional and financial news you can use.


Putting the malpractice crisis into perspective


Car too old to lock? Think again

Ironically, the parts of older cars are often worth more than the car itself. The 1991 Honda Accord, the most stolen car in 2005, has a retail value as high as $3,750 in some areas. But its parts would fetch more than $5,000.


Breaking the foreign language barrier

If you're looking for an alternative to hiring costly translators for every encounter with patients who don't understand English, a new software program may be the answer. Physicians simply click on a question ("Where does it hurt?" for instance) and VoiceBOT then speaks the question and displays it on the computer screen in the patient's language. VoiceBOT addresses all phases of medical practice, including billing and insurance discussions with patients, and could cut your need for human interpreters by 60 to 80 percent, the manufacturer claims. For more information and to view a brief demonstration, go to http://www.univg.com.


More information, fewer errors

Wisconsin legislators added another layer of protection for patients who take prescription drugs. State law was amended to require physicians, on a patient's written request, to include on their scripts a description of the symptoms or purpose for which a drug is being prescribed. Pharmacists will then have to include that information on the dispensing label.


Doughnut hole-or sink hole?


Don't let thieves steal your investments

Computer hackers have broken into customer accounts at several online brokerage firms, including E*Trade, making off with millions of dollars, say company officials and the North American Securities Administrators Association. E-thieves were running a "pump and dump" scheme by using customers' funds to buy penny stocks, drive up their share prices, and sell the stocks at a profit. E*Trade officials say they've been able to block further thefts, and the company promises to cover all investor losses due to fraud. TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab have similar investor protection guarantees.

Online investors should be cautious and avoid using unprotected computers, such as those at an airport or library, to access financial accounts, says the NASAA, an investor protection organization. Always ask your broker to confirm all transactions and transfers, log off the website after you're done with your trade, and keep your security software up to date.

Stock Pick

Allstate has made an effort to reduce its future exposure to catastrophic events by cutting back on the number of homeowners it insures. It also boasts a healthy 2.2 percent dividend yield and excellent cash flow. With a three-to-five-year target price of $102, it's a premier player with an inexpensive price tag in an industry that has solid long-term growth potential. Patient investors should be in good hands.

Our stock analyst is John Buckingham, the editor of The Prudent Speculator, the investment newsletter rated No. 1 for total return performance for 25 years by The Hulbert Financial Digest. Buckingham also manages the Al Frank Fund and Al Frank Dividend Value Fund, mutual funds that focus on undervalued and out-of-favor companies. *Data through Nov. 15, 2006. Source: MSN Money


Your next trip will cost even more

Taking a trip within North America next year will set you back an extra 4.5 percent for economy airfare, car rental, and a hotel room, says the American Express Business Travel Forecast. Domestic airfares are expected to climb by 3 to 5 percent, thanks to fewer seats and airline mergers. A smaller supply in rental cars will boost prices by 4 to 6 percent. Lodging rates in North America will rise by 2 to 6 percent for mid-range and 3 to 8 percent for top-of-the-line hotels. Rates in major cities, including New York, may jump by as much as 18 percent.


Should you really buy those gift cards?

One out of five people who received a gift card last year haven't used it, says a new poll from Consumer Reports. Many respondents say the cards were either lost or expired. Yet 60 percent of consumers say they'll buy gift cards this holiday season-in fact, for women, they were the most desired gift. (Men are more interested in electronics.)


Don't waste money on inefficient charities

Before you do any year-end giving, find out how much your favorite charity actually spends on programs and services. Charity Navigator ( http://www.charitynavigator.org) rates more than 5,000 US-based organizations on efficiency, and estimates how much each group spends on programs and services, administrative expenses such as salaries, and fund-raising. Among the most efficient charities were Boys & Girls Club of America, Mayo Foundation, and the American Red Cross.

If you're in a giving mood this season, don't forget arts and cultural charities, which were the only category of nonprofit groups to get substantially less money in 2005 than in the past, says Charity Navigator.

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