You’ve probably heard the term “preventive medicine” a lot since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. The law requires insurance companies to cover several preventive care services at no cost to you.
But what exactly is preventive medicine?
Preventive medicine aims to keep people from contracting the diseases that are most likely to result in illness, disability or death. The goal is to educate patients on their individual risks and teach them how to lead healthy lifestyles.
“It’s looking specifically at the person and taking reliable resources to council them,” says Noreen O’Shea, D.O., assistant professor and physician in the Family Medicine Clinic at Des Moines University. “Your provider should be a learned advisor to you. You’re still in charge of your body, but a physician is able to boil down all the information that is out there from many different sources.”
Health professionals use the guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine that make recommendations on screenings, counseling and other preventive measures.
Many preventive screenings are recommended starting as early as age 20, including blood pressure, cholesterol, weight/BMI and waist circumference. These screenings are all for risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease that can be modified, treated or controlled. More screenings for a variety of other diseases are necessary as you age and your level of risk increases.
“Preventive medicine is based on having good screening tools. We as doctors want to make sure you are as safe as possible. The best way to do that is to have a screening test to catch a disease when it’s asymptomatic,” says O’Shea.
It’s important to start getting screened early. Test results can serve as a wake-up call that you need to modify your lifestyle before you do further damage to your body. But preventive medicine is about more than screenings. It requires an honest and open relationship with your provider. You should discuss your lifestyle and habits at each health care visit and be open about your and your family’s medical history.
“You need to be honest with your primary care provider. Admit to what you’ve done or are still doing – how much you smoke or drink, how much sun exposure you have, whether you’re exercising or not. Partner with your provider to figure out a plan you can stick to,” O’Shea advises.