Do these eight things and you will be more creative, insightful: neuroscientist

Tests of human intelligence show that even as IQ, the measure of our analytical thinking skills, appears to be on the rise, our more expansive, creative thinking skills may be on the wane as our hyper-busy world promotes more narrow, analytical thought.

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Neuroscientist John Kounios, a professor of psychology at Drexel University and co-author, along with colleague Mark Beeman, of The Eureka Factor, studies how creativity and insightful thinking begin in the brain.

He says there are some very simple things we can all do to set the stage for insights, out-of-the box thinking, creativity and the “whispers of intuition” to arise, Kounios explains:

How did you get started looking at the science of insight?

Kounios: There was a controversy in cognitive psychology about whether thinking changes gradually over time — what’s called continuous processing –or if your brain snaps from one state to another state to another state. The thinking at the time was that all thought gradually flowed, and that what people thought of as insight was just an emotional flourish, an added “oomph” at the end of the thinking process that made it feel sudden.

We designed some experiments, using anagrams where you have to rearrange letters to find a word, and found that some people go from having no idea about the solution, to having the solution in one jump. That showed us insight is real.

I decided to focus on the neural basis of creativity and began working with my colleague Mark Beeman to map both where and when sudden insights were happening in the brain.

I use EEG, or measurements of the brain’s electrical activity, which is good for knowing exactly when in time something is happening in the brain, but not as good as showing where. And Mark uses fMRI technology, which looks at changes in the blood flow in the brain and is good at showing where brain activity is happening, but is fuzzy about when.

So we decided to combine our strategies.

What have you found?

Kounios: Studying insight poses challenges. I’d love to stuff someone in a brain scanner and wait for them to have an insight. But that’s not practical. So we give people what are called “remote associates problems.” Each consists of three words, like pine/crab/sauce, and you have to think of a fourth word that would make a compound word or familiar phrase with each one. In this case, the answer is “apple.”

People can solve these problems one of two ways: They can sit there and methodically, analytically try to figure out the solution – using analytical reasoning. Or, sometimes they look at the problem and the solution just pops into their awareness, like an ‘A-ha’ moment.

We compared the brain activity for both insightful and analytic solutions. We found that right at the point where the problem is solved with a flash of insight, there’s a burst of gamma wave activity in the right temporal lobe just above the ear, specifically the right anterior superior temporal gyrus. People who solved the problem analytically didn’t have that same activity.

We also tested people in their resting state, then gave them a bunch of anagrams to solve. We found some people, we call them Analyticals, tended to use analytical reasoning to solve the puzzles. And another group, we called Insightfuls, relied predominantly on insight. And found that, even at rest, their brains are functioning somewhat differently.

People who are highly analytical have more activity in their left frontal lobe. And people who are highly insightful have more activity in the right posterior parietal lobe, in the back of the brain.

The frontal lobes are all about focus, control, strategic thought. And when that is highly active, then people are very organised and very focused. When the frontal lobe is deactivated, people tend to be somewhat scattered and disorganised, but they also tend to be somewhat creative.

In fact, people with mild ADHD tend to score more highly on tests of creativity.

We also found a third category, people who tend to be either highly analytical or highly insightful, but can voluntarily change their brain state and switch cognitive styles as needed.

So we think both analytically and insightfully. Is one type of thinking better?

Kounios: Some problems, you can solve either way, analytically or with a flash of insight. Some problems lend themselves to analytic thinking. If I give you a column of numbers to add up, you can’t just look at it and expect to know the answer – maybe savants can, but most people can’t. But people do know how, step by step, to add the numbers and come up with a result.

But others problems are unbounded, unconstrained. Like, how do I become happy? How do I become a good person? There are no particular ground rules, no formula to follow for that. People often solve those problems through a flash of insight, which is a form of creativity, and why it’s desirable.

Because it’s more and more the case that the problems we’re facing in the world today as individuals and as a society are becoming too complicated – terrorism, pollution – they’ve become intertwined and globalised. There’s no straightforward method for solving them. It will take creativity.

How can readers set the stage for insights, for creativity, to arise?

Kounios: Insight is like a cat. You can’t order it to appear. You can coax it. But you can’t command it. Creativity and insight flows from a particular brain state. And if you can put yourself in this brain state, you will be more likely to have these creative insights.

And we do know from scientific study that altering aspects of your environment can help you. 

1. Positive mood

There is a lot of research going back 20, 30 years showing that being in a positive mood improves creativity. When you’re in a somewhat negative mood, a little anxious, that actually improves analytical thought.

Creativity flows from a state of feeling safe or secure. When you feel safe or secure, you can take risks. And creativity is intellectually risky. When you come up with new ideas, they can be wrong. When you try to implement new ideas, you can meet resistance.

But when you feel subtle, unconscious threat, you feel you can’t make mistakes. You have to stay focused on the topic, so you don’t stray far from what the problem is, or what you need to do.

We also found that having a deadline, which carries with it the implicit threat of a negative consequence if you don’t meet it, can create anxiety and shift your cognitive strategy into a more analytical mode of thought. Deadlines can increase analytical productivity, but if an employer really needs something outside the box, innovative and original, maybe a soft target date would encourage more creativity.

In another study, we found that, for people who solved problems analytically, they had more activity in their visual cortex – they were outwardly focused. But before people solved problems with a flash of insight, they had less activity in their visual cortex – they were focusing their attention inwardly.

And before a flash of insight, there was more activity in the anterior cingulate, right in the middle of the head. What the anterior cingulate does is monitor the rest of the brain for conflicts. It also detects different strategies for solving problems. You can’t use two strategies at the same time. Some are strongly activated, because they’re the most obvious. And some are weak, or more distant – inklings, hunches, that tend to be more creative, even strange or off the wall.

When you’re in a positive mood, you’re more sensitive to picking up these weakly activated, unconscious ideas and, when it’s detected, your attention can switch to it, and it can pop into the head as an insight. If you’re in a bad mood, and the anterior cingulate is not activated, it just goes with what’s strongest, which is usually the most straightforward.

A good mood literally expands the scope of your thought.

2. Large spaces

Perceptual attention – how you focus your vision — seems to be related to what’s called conceptual attention. If you’re in a cramped space, say your office is a little cubicle, your visual attention can’t spread out. It’s focused in this narrow space. Just as your visual attention is constricted, your conceptual attention becomes narrow and focused, and your thinking is more likely to be analytical.

But if you’re in a large space – a big office, with high ceilings, or outside — your visual attention expands to fill the space, and your conceptual attention expands.

That’s why a lot of creative figures like to be outdoors, to take long walks in nature, and they get their inspiration from being in the wide, open spaces. If you can see far and wide, then you can think far and wide.

3. Avoid sharp objects

We’ve found that if you have striking objects, ones with sharp edges, pointy features, like a sofa with angular sides, or a letter opener that looks like a dagger, it can cause this subtle, unconscious feeling of threat. When that happens, attention narrows.

So the ideal environment for being insightful would be large, airy spaces with soft, rounded features.

4. The colours of nature

The colour red — we think of it as an emergency colour, associated with blood, fire engines and stop signs — grabs the attention and narrows it. But the outdoor colours, like the blue of the sky or the green of the trees, has been associated with relaxation, expansion, which creates a feeling of safety, which helps the attention expand and increases creativity.

It’s not true for everybody. Say your hobby is growing roses, and you could associate red with roses you love.

5. Take a break

When you take a break from a problem that you’re stuck on and do something completely different, you forget the bad idea that you were fixated on. It allows other ideas, better ideas, to bubble up to the surface. And if you’re working on a problem, but failing to solve it, when you take a break, your brain becomes more sensitised to anything in the environment related to the problem. So you notice more, you may make an association, which then pops into your awareness as a sudden insight.

6. Sleep

One of the most powerful tools for promoting insight is sleep. If you’re stuck, take a nap, go to bed, you’ll more thoroughly purge the bad idea you’re stuck on, and you’ll be more attuned to clues that might solve the problems.

One of the most interesting discoveries of neuroscience of the last 20 years is that when you acquire memories, they’re stored in temporary, fragile form, like cement. When you pour it, initially it’s soft, but when it dries and hardens, it becomes strong and durable. Memories are like that. They become hardened through a process of consolidation, which happens largely during sleep.

Memory consolidation actually transforms the memory, as well. It brings out details, hidden relationships. That can be the stuff of creativity and insight.

That’s why there are so many stories of people waking up in the middle of the night with a new idea or solution to a problem. Like Paul McCartney. He was awakened one morning with this melody in his head. It was the song, “Yesterday.” It just appeared to him. Sleep supercharges creativity.

7. Do nothing 

Doing nothing is creative work. Because when you’re consciously doing nothing, the conscious part is only a tiny part of what your brain is. The rest of it, the unconscious, is chugging away all the time. There’s this process cognitive psychologists call “incubation” – the brain churning over associations. And these associations can pop into awareness as insight. The incubation process is supercharged during sleep, and also when doing nothing, letting your mind wander and having no particular task to perform.

If you keep people’s minds busy all the time with tasks, that inhibits this incubation process. I don’t want to say that people should become Luddites and get rid of all the gadgets and become hermits – all that provides raw data for incubation.

But what we need is a balance between doing nothing and doing something – we need both to fuel creativity and insight.

8. Take a shower

The shower is a great place to let your mind wander, to incubate thoughts and set the stage for insight. In the shower, the water is warm, you don’t feel a boundary between your skin and the outside of your body. You feel sort of expansive.

There’s white noise in the background. What you see is kind of blurry, so you turn your thoughts inward, like sensory deprivation. It allows your mind to wander and your attention to broaden. That’s why people tend to have great ideas in the shower.

© The Washington Post 2015

 

Victorian police officer awake after being shot in head

A “lucky” police officer shot in the head is awake in a Melbourne hospital after an early morning pursuit turned violent.

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A gunman is on the run after firing a 12 gauge shotgun out of a car window as police tried to pull him over.

A 31-year-old male first constable was driving a police van he and his partner it tried to intercept a sedan with two people inside at Moonee Ponds about 3.40am on Tuesday.

The shot was fired through the open driver’s side window and into the head of the officer.

He took a number of shotgun pellets to the head but is awake and in a stable condition in the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Detective Inspector Steve Clark from the armed crime squad said the constable and his fellow first constable, 30, tried to pull over a black Ford sedan on Robinson St when it did a U-turn.

“They followed that car down to the school behind me … and tried to block the car in,” Det Insp Clark told reporters on Tuesday.

“The car’s done a U-turn as it’s driven out. A single shot from a 12-gauge shotgun has been discharged.

“Pellets have gone through the open window injuring the first constable, who was driving that van.”

Det Insp Clark said the attack could have been much worse. The wounded officer’s male colleague was not injured.

“It’s really only good luck rather than good management that’s resulted in our police member not being more seriously injured,” he said.

Det Insp Clark said it was concerning a routine intercept had become so violent and the officer was extremely lucky.

“It just shows how dangerous police work can be. Fortunately on this occasion, it’s a good news story rather than a bad news story,” he said.

A Ford Escape matching the description of the offender’s car was found burnt out in Coburg North but police haven’t yet confirmed if it is the vehicle involved.

The gun and the gunman haven’t been found.

Local resident Bob described how he was woken by a loud bang outside his house in the early hours of the morning.

“There’s been other vehicles in this street at night doing burn outs and speeding so I just thought it was one of them,” he said.

“I just heard the vehicle take off and that was it.”

Italian surveillance company hacked

An Italian surveillance firm known for selling malicious software used by police bodies and spy agencies has succumbed to a cyberattack.

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The firm’s spokesman on Monday confirmed the embarrassing breach which sent documents and invoices ricocheting across the internet.

Hacking Team spokesman Eric Rabe said, in a written statement, that the company was the victim of an “online attack”.

“We believe documents have been stolen from the company,” he said. “We are investigating to determine the extent of this attack and specifically what has been taken.”

Hacking Team’s headache began late Sunday, when its Twitter account was apparently hijacked and began posting screenshots of what were purported to be internal company emails and details of secret deals with various world governments.

“Since we have nothing to hide, we’re publishing all our emails, files and source code,” one of the Twitter messages said. At the same time a massive file, several hundred gigabytes in size, was leaked online.

The Associated Press couldn’t immediately verify the authenticity of the leaked material and Rabe declined to comment on the accuracy of the documents, citing confidentiality agreements.

Still, some of the billing records being shared online appeared to corroborate work by Citizen Lab, a research group at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, which has linked Hacking Team to two dozen countries, including several with atrocious human rights records.

“Early reports … appear to validate our research showing use by repressive regimes like Ethiopia and Sudan,” Citizen Lab said in a statement.

“These reports point to the lack of transparency and accountability around the market for intrusion software. We think that a better understanding of this market is essential for a free and secure internet.”

The Milan-based company has been the subject of increased scrutiny after its malware was discovered targeting a series of journalists and activists.

Disconnect at indigenous meeting: leaders

Indigenous leaders are worried Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten didn’t actually hear what they had to say about constitutional recognition.

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Kirstie Parker, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, believes there was a disconnect between what indigenous leaders told a meeting on Monday and what the prime minister and opposition leader said afterwards.

“It remains to be seen how much real listening was done,” she told ABC radio on Tuesday.

Another indigenous leader, Noel Pearson, was critical of what he saw as a stage-managed event, saying it seemed Mr Abbott and Mr Shorten had already “nutted out” the way forward between them.

“I would have preferred to stay at Cape York at my beach house with my kids and send a cardboard cut-out down to this meeting,” he said.

Ms Parker says indigenous leaders told the summit there had to be ongoing dialogue, supported by clear information, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about constitutional change.

A referendum council should be made up of indigenous people who would talk with the parliament and broader community.

They didn’t want more of the same with general community discussions, Ms Parker said.

Mr Abbott and Mr Shorten agreed there would be a series of community conferences from September to give everyone an opportunity to have a say.

A referendum council that was “broadly reflective of the Australian people” would be established. “If there is any discomfort coming from political leadership about our people talking amongst ourselves in indigenous specific events or conventions or forums, they need to say so,” Ms Parker said.

“What has been missing from the equation is our voices and an opportunity, fully resourced, for our people to talk amongst ourselves.”

Mr Pearson called for a plebiscite of indigenous people before a full referendum.

Federal Liberal MP Andrew Laming warned there was an extraordinarily low level of interest in the community about constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians.

Any change could take years since many Australians were interested in other things and that view was compounded by scepticism over whether symbolic actions would change life for indigenous Australians, he said.

Ms Parker conceded the mid-2016 deadline for resolving a question for a referendum to be held the following year was tight, but said there had to be a mud map with milestones to ensure progress.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant ‘common’ in Aus, UK, NZ

Expectant mothers across all social groups drank, while 20 to 80 per cent of those questioned in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom reported drinking while pregnant.

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The research, published in the online journal BMJ Open, analysed data from three studies that had assessed the amount and type of alcohol drunk before and during pregnancy.

The researchers, from the University of Adelaide, University of Auckland, Liggins Institute and the University of Cambridge, involved 17,244 women who delivered live babies in the four countries.

The prevalence of drinking alcohol ranged from 40 to 80 per cent in Australasia and the UK, and from 20 to 80 per cent in Ireland.

The strongest and most consistent predictor of a heightened risk of drinking alcohol during pregnancy was smoking, with smokers being 17 to 50 per cent more likely to do so.

“Alcohol use during pregnancy is highly prevalent, and evidence from this cross-cohort and cross-country comparison shows that gestational alcohol exposure may occur in over 75% of pregnancies in the UK and Ireland,” the researchers wrote. 

Most clinical and government guidelines advise women to stop drinking during pregnancy, the authors wrote.

They found a lower risk of drinking while pregnant in those with a higher level of education, those who had other children, and those were were overweight or obese.

And they found most of those who did drink did so at very low levels.

But seeing as the risks of light drinking were not fully known, they said the widespread consumption of even low levels during pregnancy was a significant public health concern.

“Since most women who consume alcohol do so at lower levels where the offspring growth and development effects are less well understood [than at higher levels], the widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern,” they concluded. 

Perinatal Psychiatrist Dr Mark Huthwaite from the University of Otago said the study was surprising, given the amount of information out there about pregnancy and drinking.

“Given the level of education and ages of those most likely to consume alcohol during pregnancy one might simply expect that these pregnant women ought to know better,” he said.

“Is it that miscarriages are now considered a mere nuisance and rather inconsequential? Or possibly are the effects of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder so subtle and presenting later in the child’s life so as not to be considered of much significance?”

Obstetrician Professor Lesley McCowan from the University of Auckland added there was never any safe levels of drinking when pregnant. 

“As there is no known safe level of alcohol use in pregnancy the best advice is not to drink alcohol in pregnancy.”

Related: INSIGHT

 

Germany, France press Greece to make credible proposals

 

Extended coverage: Greek debt crisis

After a meeting in Paris, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said Athens must move quickly if it wants to secure a cash-for-reform deal with international creditors and avoid crashing out of the euro.

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Raising the stakes on the Greek leader ahead of a euro-zone summit on Tuesday, the European Central Bank decided to keep a tight grip on funding to Greek banks, which have been closed for more than a week to avoid a massive outflow of money that could lead to their collapse.

The ECB also decided to raise the amount of collateral Greek banks must post for any loans. The move doesn’t affect the lenders right away, but it was a warning shot by the ECB to Greek banks that their fate lies in its hands.

And a German finance ministry official dismissed the idea that Berlin would be willing to concede some debt relief to Athens, a position that Tsipras’ government has long sought.

Still, in a sign that Athens is keen to seek a new deal, Greece’s combative finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, resigned, apparently under pressure from other euro zone finance ministers who did not want him as a negotiating partner.

Tsipras had earlier promised Merkel that Greece would bring a proposal for a deal to an emergency summit of euro zone leaders on Tuesday, a Greek official said. It was unclear how much it would differ from other proposals rejected in the past.

“The door is open for discussion,” Hollande told reporters, standing next to Merkel after talks at the Elysee Palace.

“It’s now up to the government of Alexis Tsipras to offer serious, credible proposals so that this will can be turned into a program which gives a long-term perspective, because Greece needs a long-term perspective in the euro zone with stable rules, as the euro zone itself does.”

Not much time

Hollande stressed that there is not much time left while Merkel urged Greece to put proposals on the table this week.

After the Greek ‘No’ vote, gloomy officials in Brussels and Berlin said a Greek exit from the currency area now looked ever more likely.

But they also said talks to avert it would be easier without Varoufakis, an avowed “erratic Marxist” economist who infuriated fellow euro zone finance ministers with his casual style and indignant lectures. He had campaigned for Sunday’s ‘No’ vote, accusing Greece’ creditors of “terrorism”.

His sacrifice suggested Tsipras was determined to try to reach a last-ditch compromise with European leaders.

Greece’s political leaders, more accustomed to screaming abuse at each other in parliament, issued an unprecedented joint statement after a day of talks at the president’s office backing efforts to reach a deal with creditors.

They called for immediate steps to reopen banks and said any deal must address debt sustainability – code for reducing Athens’ crushing debt – but gave no hint of concessions from the Greek side towards its creditors’ demands for deep spending cuts and far-reaching reforms of pensions and labor markets.

The chief negotiator in aid talks with international creditors, Euclid Tsakalotos, a soft-spoken academic economist, was appointed finance minister.

To win any new deal, Greece will have to overcome deep distrust among partners, above all Germany, Greece’s biggest creditor and the EU’s biggest economy, where public opinion has hardened in favor of cutting Greece loose from the euro.

Defiance

While jubilant Greeks celebrated their national gesture of defiance late into the night, there was gloom in Brussels.

European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said there was no easy way out of the crisis and the referendum result had widened the gap between Greece and other euro zone countries.

An EU source said barring some major Greek concession, euro zone leaders were more likely to discuss on Tuesday how to cope with a Greek exit, and how to reinforce the remaining currency union, than any new aid program for Athens.

While France and Italy have emphasized the importance of more talks, a big majority of the 19 euro zone government favor taking a hard line with Greece, diplomats said, and German public opinion is running out of patience.

Merkel’s vice-chancellor, Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel, told a news conference: “If Greece wants to stay in the euro, the Greek government must quickly make a substantive offer that goes beyond its willingness thus far.”

Blind woman takes on ABC

A blind woman has launched an unlawful discrimination case against the ABC for failing to make audio description part of its regular programming.

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Audio description is a second track that describes actions, scene changes, gestures and facial expressions for those with no or low vision.

Suzanne Hudson believes that by not making programs accessible for people who are blind or have low vision, the public broadcaster has engaged in indirect discrimination.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is representing Ms Hudson in the Federal Circuit Court and the centre’s chief executive, Edward Santow, says Australia lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to providing audio description.

“Many countries, including the UK, US, Ireland, Germany and Spain, already provide the service on free-to-air or subscription services,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

“By comparison, 20 per cent of the UK Channel 4’s programs offer audio description, which works out at more than 33 hours per week.”

That means that vision-impaired people in the UK can watch Home and Away with the service, while viewers in Australia can’t.

The ABC trialled the service for 13 weeks in 2012 on its primary channel ABC1.

After handing a report to government, the communications minister agreed late last year to fund a further 15 months trial on iview.

“The technical trial will test the digital delivery path for audio description services within the ABC,” the public broadcaster says on its website.

It will also provide a greater understanding of the issues associated with the public’s access to and use of such a service.

A report will be handed back to government in the second half of 2016.

Mr Santow said the iview trial was welcomed by the vision-impaired community, but there remained significant barriers to accessing the online service, especially for those who rely on screen reading software.

“The technology and accessible content exists, so we are urging the ABC to take this important, permanent step towards equality,” he said.

Not my job to comment on Greece: Abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott won’t be offering a running commentary on what the troubled economies of Greece and China should be doing.

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Instead, his job is to build a strong and prosperous Australia, he says.

Mr Abbott was spruiking the government’s grocery code of conduct, outside a western Sydney store of supermarket giant Woolworths on Tuesday when he was quizzed by reporters on developments in Europe and China.

But he stayed very much on message, saying the important thing was for the government to do whatever it could to build a strong and prosperous economy.

That meant a grocery code of conduct.

“This is about ensuring we have the strongest possible local businesses to supply the strongest possible local businesses,” he said.

Acting Treasurer Bruce Billson was more to the point, saying the next few days would be “very significant” as Greece and eurozone finance ministers try to thrash out a bailout solution.

Finance ministers later on Tuesday will be urging the Greek authorities to devise a new proposition that appeases lenders and allows a renewed supply of funding to the Greek economy after Sunday’s referendum rejected bailout terms.

“Now what needs to happen is a clear definition of what’s next,” Mr Billson told ABC radio, adding the Australian government was closely monitoring developments.

Mr Billson also believes Chinese authorities have intervened to stop a shares slump in a “confident and bold way”.

Former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello warns the Greek crisis provides lessons for Australia, arguing the time to worry about debt is before it gets out of control.

The Australian government was still borrowing $100 million a day, he wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

While the government could easily borrow that amount, it shouldn’t do it indefinitely, he said.

Australian consumers are clearly worried events in Greece, and problems in China, will flow through to the Australian economy.

The ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index fell 4.6 per cent in the past week, eroding most of gains made since the May budget.

Calls for private health insurance inquiry

Doctors and consumer groups are demanding an inquiry into Australia’s private health insurance industry, as exorbitant fees force private patients to use the public system.

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Brisbane obstetrician Gino Pecoraro says it’s “criminal” that even the most comprehensive insurance policies are failing to cover patients for the cost of their medical bills, leaving them with out-of-pocket fees they can’t afford to pay.

The former president of the Australian Medical Association in Queensland says the problem lies with legislation that prevents insurers from paying more for procedures than the Medicare Benefits Schedule fee.

He also blames a lack of competition.

“We should have a Senate inquiry into the whole industry and open it up,” Dr Pecoraro told AAP on Tuesday.

“Why can’t we open up to health funds from all around the world and let Australian citizens buy a product that actually means something.”

The Consumers Health Forum says an inquiry is overdue, with the most recent review by the Productivity Commission now almost 20 years old.

Forum chief executive Leanne Wells says consumers are becoming disillusioned, with private patients more likely to face higher out-of-pocket costs than those without insurance.

Rising premiums and policy exclusions also have left many considering dropping out altogether.

Meanwhile, complaints to the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman in the March quarter were up 23 per cent from last year.

“It’s timely to ask what problem is private health insurance trying to solve, now, and do we need to do a rethink about whether it does what it was set up to do,” Ms Wells said.

The Australian Medical Association also supports an inquiry into the industry.

But Private Healthcare Australia president Michael Armitage said it would be “a waste of money”.

The problem lay with exorbitant doctors fees and patients who forget what their policy covers.

“We agree people pay too much, but that’s not our fault, we don’t set the fees, the doctors set the fees,” Mr Armitage told AAP.

Mission to help whale stuck in Qld lagoon

Marine experts have hit the waters off Cairns in a bid to save a whale stranded in a reef lagoon for at least three weeks.

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Wildlife officers have gone to Elford reef in a bid to coax the whale, believed to be between six and eight metres long, to safety.

After studying footage of the animal, which is trapped in a small lagoon surrounded by a maze of reefs, CSIRO’s Dr Matt Curnock believes the whale could be an Antarctic minke, rarely spotted on the Great Barrier Reef.

Helicopter pilot Bronwyn Loud was taking a tourist on a scenic flight over the reef last month when one of her passengers noticed the whale. Three weeks on, it’s still in the same spot.

“It’s not really moving much, just ducking up and down under the water,” she told the Seven Network. “It doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere.”

Dr Curnock says wildlife officers who went to the site on Monday tried herding the animal to safety. That didn’t work and they’re now trying to use the whale’s natural curiosity to lure it out into open water.

“I doubt it’s able to feed there,” he told AAP on Tuesday. “It eats large schools of fish and krill and the like. If it doesn’t get out, running out of energy reserves is a real risk for it.”

He said a similar incident involving a dwarf minke in 1982 didn’t end well. In that case the whale remained trapped for three months and died despite efforts to save it. Its skeleton is now in a Townsville museum.

Dr Curnock said he wanted to confirm the species of whale involved in the current drama.

“It may be an Antarctic minke,” he said. “It’s pretty rare, but not unheard of, for this species to be on the Great Barrier Reef.”

“There was a confirmed sighting of an Antarctic minke back in 2001.”

He said wildlife officers would be doing their best not to stress the animal.

“We’re certainly hoping this one is going to find its way out soon,” Dr Curnock said.