What Is Preventive Medicine? A Look at What These Proactive Providers Do


03.05.2018

We go through life day by day, each with our own set schedules and habits. When things go wrong, we get into accidents, or we fall ill, we rely on trusted doctors and health care professionals to help us recover.

That’s how much of health care works — responsive action taken to treat a sickness or disease already underway.

But what if we could avoid getting sick in the first place? That’s what preventive medicine is all about. Most areas of medicine narrowly focus on a single age group, ailment, or body part. But preventive medicine does not have these boundaries, making it a very broad field.

But what is preventive medicine? And why is it so important? Keep reading to learn more about the field of preventive medicine and why its reach spans not just individual patients, but scores of communities and populations.

What is preventive medicine, exactly?

Preventive medicine is exactly what it sounds like — it aims to prevent sickness before it happens.

The ideology behind preventive medicine focuses on protecting, promoting, and maintaining health and well-being. It also aims to avert disease, disability, and death on an individual basis, as well as on a large scale in communities and populations.

Preventive medicine is promoted by all physicians, though some choose to specialize in it. Physicians in this specialty use biostatistics and epidemiology, as well as a mix of medical, social, economic, and behavioral sciences. They may evaluate health services or manage health care organizations. They also study the cause of disease and injury within specific population segments.

Preventive medicine is an interdisciplinary branch of medicine that focuses on the whole patient and the many factors influencing their health. It holds a broad scope, encompassing elements of socioeconomics, the role of legislation, health equity, and the disparities found in communities and certain populations.

Why is preventive medicine important?

Chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, account for seven out of ten deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is why screening and detection have become so critical. Healthy habits are just as critical, including eating well, exercising, and avoiding tobacco use. These help individuals stay healthy, avoid disease, or minimize the effects of disease.

The CDC lists the five leading causes of death in the US as heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, and unintentional injuries. This makes preventive medicine all the more important in avoiding premature death.

Practicing preventive medicine can also lower costs, as 75 percent of annual health spending goes toward chronic and largely preventable diseases in the US, according to the CDC. Preventive medicine also fights the productivity drain associated with chronic illness.

Clinical and non-clinical preventive medicine

Preventive medicine can be practiced in both the clinic setting and outside of it. Clinical preventive medicine physicians see patients. They may provide counseling for unhealthy habits, run preventive health screenings and administer immunizations. They may work with patients who would benefit from lifestyle changes and often encounter common cases such as diabetes, smoking, or obesity.

Non-clinical preventive medicine physicians don’t work closely with individual patients. This branch of medicine includes health policy, epidemiology, and an increased focus on the social and behavioral influences on a person’s health. However, the work of many preventive medicine physicians spans both the clinical and non-clinical branches of the field.

Additionally, the field of preventive medicine also offers several focused subspecialties, including the following:

Aerospace medicine

Aerospace medicine pertains to the health and safety of persons within air and space vehicles. The passengers and workers aboard these contraptions face their share of environmental hazards, as well as physical and psychological stressors.

Physicians in aerospace medicine work to promote the health, safety, and wellness of individuals working or travelling in air and space environments. They work to prevent injury from many environmental factors, including microgravity, radiation exposure, G-forces, emergency ejection injuries, and hypoxic conditions.

Occupational medicine

Occupational medicine seeks to prevent injury, disability, and death in workers. Physicians specializing in occupational medicine examine the physical, chemical, biological, and social environments of the workplace and their impact on the health of employees. They help employers identify health and safety risks to employees and work to cut down on occupational hazards that could result in injury or death. They may also make policy recommendations to promote safe work environments, diagnose occupational diseases and injuries, and research work-related health issues.

Public health

The public health medical specialty promotes health and well-being on a larger scale. These physicians work with communities and certain segments of the population, combining prevention-based clinical knowledge with population-based public health.

Public health physicians analyze data on public health problems and research the causes behind them. They also develop strategies to tackle health issues in the public, which can lead to new programs promoting overall health and preventing the spread of disease. Public health physicians also consult with other officials in the field to develop legislation benefitting the health of entire communities.

Staying a step ahead

Now you know about what preventive medicine is and how doctors incorporate it into their practice or specialize in it altogether. This is an important field of medicine that not only helps patients and populations thwart illness, but also helps keeps health costs down.

As mentioned above, all doctors incorporate some degree of preventive medicine into their practice. But primary care physicians have an especially good opportunity to help their patients stay healthy and avoid falling ill. Learn more about the important role these doctors play in our article, “What Does a Primary Care Physician Do? Exploring This High-Demand Medical Career.”

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