Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease and cancer are the nation’s top two killers, with diabetes—another preventable disease—also appearing in the top 10 list.
Because so many of these conditions can be prevented or successfully treated early, doctors are emphasizing the importance of preventive health care services. Unfortunately, on a national level, Americans use preventive services at about half the recommended rate, because of financial barriers and lack of education and awareness.
If caught early, many potentially deadly conditions can be treated, which is why preventive health care services are so important. To learn more about preventive services from an expert, Healthy Me PA sat down with Dr. Scott Blore, primary care physician with Plumsteadville Family Practice, part of Doylestown Health.
“The best way to look at preventive health care services is really looking at the word ‘preventive,’” Blore said. “We’re trying to encourage patients to use preventive services to either prevent issues from occurring in the future or to detect early in a stage where it’s very treatable, whether it’s through routine checkups, patient counseling, or recommending screening tests.”
Why are preventive health care services important?
“So often, when there is a type of cancer, like breast or colon, or if it’s a metabolic disorder like cholesterol that could lead to heart disease, early detection is better and treatment options tend to be more successful and help people live healthier lives in general,” Blore said.
“Preventive services have been proven to work. Not only do they find things earlier, but they have been proven to help keep people healthier longer, and also save the country lots of health care dollars,” he added. “We have a lot of conversations happening in the country about health care costs, and when we find things early, it really reduces the cost to the health system overall. A ton of research has found that preventive services save thousands of lives and cost the health care system less money in the process.”
Blore mentioned a few common preventive health care services, including seeing your primary care doctor for an annual checkup; getting routine blood work to screen for diabetes, cholesterol, cancers, and other problems; getting imaging studies to detect breast or colon cancer; getting screenings for dementia and depression; and getting vaccinations that prevent a number of diseases.
How do I know what preventive health care services I need?
“A great place for anyone to start is always with their primary care physician. Seeing them once a year, their primary care physician would be able to look at their family history, their age, and the current recommendations and guidelines to see what screenings would be best for them,” Blore said. “There’s also excellent online resources, such as healthcare.gov, which provides lists of preventive services, and you can enter your gender and age and it calculates what preventive services you qualify for and should have done. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has a website that does the same thing, and cdc.gov/prevention lists the available services as well.”
Does insurance cover preventive health care services?
“The Affordable Care Act mandated that insurances cover the recommended lists of preventive services from the USPSTF and the CDC, and while some changes to the ACA have been made, many of the routine preventive care services remain typically covered by health insurers,” he said. “If you aren’t sure if they are covered, you can go straight to your insurance and ask if they will be covered or not.”
If preventive health care services are so important and beneficial, why don’t people take advantage of them?
Blore listed a few barriers that keep patients from using preventive health care:
- Cost: “I think cost is a big barrier that still keeps patients from utilizing preventive services because they don’t know these services are covered. I think, when they come to see the doctor and the doctor recommends a vaccine or test, they think it will add to the cost. So I do think that cost is still an issue.”
- Fear: “I think there is also always the fear of the unknown, that people are sometimes afraid to have a screening study, because if they have a type of cancer or condition they are afraid of what it will mean for them. And sometimes they’re afraid because bad news isn’t something they want to face, and that’s where screening early becomes so important, because if we caught it early and can treat it, it is often not as dangerous or severe and the recovery is much easier.”
- Time: “I think time is a factor, as well. Some people may find it difficult to get to the doctor once a year, and then, when they go to the doctor, the doctor gives them a vaccine or a screening they need to come back for in a couple months. They may not be able to.”
- People think because they feel healthy they don’t need to see the doctor: “I think another aspect is that, when people feel healthy, they don’t necessarily want to go looking for something. So when they feel healthy, they tend to only see the doctor when they feel sick.”
To find out more about the preventive health services you need, regardless of your age and current health status, you should visit healthcare.gov or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website and use the preventive services calculators.