You may have wondered before whether preventive healthcare is beneficial. I know one patient from my hospital medical training days who wondered this too. When I first met him, he was newly diagnosed with congestive heart failure and struggling with shortness of breath and side effects from medications. I’ll never forget this patient asking what he needed do to fix his heart condition. My answer to him was simply, “Well, you’d need a time machine to do that.”
While my response may sound abrupt, the likely truth was that he had high blood pressure for many years and didn’t see his doctor for preventive checkups. Over time, this patient’s heart was getting tired from forcing it to work so hard. Now, decades later, he was facing a serious health condition that could end his life early. At this point, all we could do was “damage control,” trying to keep his congestive heart failure from getting worse.
I would much rather help my patients avert a medical problem rather than try to fix one later. It’s kind of like statesman Benjamin Franklin who, in the 1730s, popularized the centuries-old phrase, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It is certainly easier to take small steps to prevent health problems upfront than to let a health issue advance into a life-threatening condition. Then again, if it was so easy, wouldn’t everybody do it?
What Is Preventive Healthcare?
Preventive healthcare is critical to what doctors and healthcare providers at Think Whole Person Healthcare practice. Preventive medicine focuses on improving a patient’s well-being in an effort to avoid disease, illness, injury, disability and death. Our goal is to keep you as healthy as possible so you can live a fully vibrant life well into your senior years.
When you get preventive care at think, you reduce your risks for a host of health conditions that may remain silent for years before you physically feel the effects. People may skip over preventive health services because they are not aware of recommended services, they do not have a healthcare provider, or they think the cost may be prohibitive. Some people may also be embarrassed to talk with a doctor or feel their healthcare provider is too busy and may not care. The idea of going to see your doctor when you’re feeling well is unusual to most.
Our team of think healthcare providers understand these hesitancies and obstacles to getting the best care possible and compassionately strive to help every patient feel valued and listened to no matter the type of medical concern. Preventive healthcare is designed to keep you healthy in the present so you can live healthier in the future.
What Does Preventive Healthcare Look Like?
Many people don’t realize that health insurance plans and Medicare often cover basic yearly preventive care for little or no cost. A Health Savings Account (HSA) can cover deductibles and remaining costs not eligible for insurance. Everyone in the family can benefit from preventive services including well-child and dental visits that follow your children’s development to screenings and vaccinations for adults. The key is finding problems early so they are easier to treat.
Types of preventive healthcare include:
- Blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes tests
- Comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) test
- Cancer screenings, including mammograms and colonoscopies
- Vaccinations against diseases such as COVID-19, flu, measles, meningitis and hepatitis
- Regular well-baby and well-child visits
- Counseling and screenings for healthy pregnancies
- Treatment and counseling assistance for quitting smoking, reducing alcohol use, treating depression, losing weight and making other healthy lifestyle changes
When you come in for a preventive checkup, we typically check blood pressure and do screening tests for metabolic health such as fasting blood sugar, kidney and liver function and cholesterol. We would also want to make sure your current diet, exercise and sleep patterns are working for your body.
If we find that you have a health condition that needs continual monitoring, you may qualify for our think comprehensive Care Management system to help: Chronic Care Management (CCM), Care Coordination, and Clinical Pharmacy. Think also offers Remote Patient Management (RPM) using digital technology to collect health data such as your vital signs and blood sugar from you outside our offices. We keep track of your health and keep you seamlessly connected to our physicians and healthcare teams.
How Does Preventive Care Help Me?
While you may not feel any symptoms currently, it is good to get your metabolic and overall health checked now instead of being out of range and problems developing later. If left too high, cholesterol can stick to your arteries, causing inflammation and scarring. High blood pressure and high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels in similar ways, all of which can increase risk for heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease over time.
Preventive medicine is really about trying to identify any potential health risks early and to control them now before they become a problem. Once some of that damage is done in your body, you can’t undo it. Instead, you’re just kind of stuck trying to manage these conditions so they don’t become disabling or deadly. When people move their health to the back burner, the lapse in medical care can result in unexpected ER trips with possible hospitalization, surgery and rehabilitation. It’s estimated that up to one-third of ER visits in the United States could be avoided — many of the conditions managed through preventive health services.
It may come as no surprise, but emergency room (ER) visits are expensive. According to government and medical statistics, the average emergency room visit costs $2,200 on average. While insurance and Medicare does pay a percentage of your emergent care, you are still responsible for the remaining costs. Total ER expenses typically include fees for triage, facility/room use, medications, medical supplies, plus the attending physician and professional fees.
If your condition warrants a hospital stay, be prepared for even more sticker shock. Healthcare.gov finds that the average three-day hospital stay costs around $30,000. If you need surgery, say for heart valve replacement, it may cost more than $200,000. One medical relief debt agency notes that 60% – 65% of bankruptcies in the country are related to medical expenses.
So that high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure or occasional stomach pain and chest pain that some people ignore? Preventive healthcare can often pinpoint and treat these ailments early on, saving patients thousands of dollars and unnecessary medical care and time off work and away from home.
When Should I Start with Preventive Care?
The short answer: as early as you feel comfortable doing so. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon anymore for people to develop metabolic problems such as diabetes and high cholesterol in their mid- to late-20s. There’s always research going on to figure out the right time for certain preventive screenings, but much of this depends on you as an individual. This includes overall health, sleep quality, diet, physical activity and family history. This is also where we discuss pelvic exams, mammograms, colonoscopies and seasonal or age-appropriate vaccinations.
Personally, I like to establish a baseline on screenings and lab work with my patients in their 20s. If everything is stable, I may check back on the lab work every two or three years. For individuals who are older or with other risk factors mentioned above, once a year is usually fine if everything is stable. It’s reasonable that if you’ve got a family history of a certain disease, such as parents with high cholesterol, then it’s worth getting a cholesterol screening in your early 20s. We do know that people can get heart attacks more easily in middle age and beyond, but usually the problem most likely started several years before that. If you’ve gone that long with high cholesterol and didn’t know about it, theoretically the damage could already be done.
What Do You Tell Your Patients?
Rather than referring to an “annual physical” for my patients, I say let’s take a “time out” and go over everything and make sure we’re not missing something important. This gives me an opportunity to ask my patients questions and gives them an opportunity to bring up anything they’ve been thinking about with their health.
They may say they didn’t want to bother me with something that doesn’t seem that big, and I tell them, “Let’s just talk about it. I’d rather you come in for something that you think is small and get some reassurance than just sweep it under the rug and have it be a potential bigger problem.” As humans we tend to minimize problems and say, “I feel fine. Why would I need to see a doctor?” That slight change in your health or bothersome pain may be something we need to investigate further.
Another thing I often say to my patients is that preventive medicine in general is statistics. You could do all the preventive care correctly and still end up with health problems. Conversely, you could ignore all the preventive care and be fine. Those are the two extremes. Most people fall in the middle with the likelihood of serious medical conditions down the road when health problems are not front of mind or are ignored. Preventive medicine helps minimize your risks for those conditions even occurring. Anything can happen with your health; you never know. That’s the whole point of prevention.
LEARN MORE ABOUT PREVENTIVE CARE BY SPEAKING WITH YOUR THINK PROVIDER
Think Whole Person Healthcare makes it easy to receive both preventive care and treatment for a wide range of health conditions. Talk to your healthcare provider to know which preventive services are right for you depending on your health status, age and gender. Our physicians, advanced practice providers and specialists are committed to you and your family’s lifelong health and well-being.Our walk-in clinic treats anyone, even those who are not a think patient or do not have a primary care provider currently. To learn more about our comprehensive healthcare services, visit our Services page online and choose your own think medical professionals by visiting our Meet Your Doctor page.