Definition and Overview
Preventive medicine consultation is an appointment with a specialist whose primary objective is to maintain the good health and well-being of the patient by eliminating potential causes, understanding and mitigating risks, and reducing the serious and long-term impact of an existing condition.
Specialists who practice preventive medicine can be very varied, from general physicians to internists, cardiologists, nephrologists, and orthopedics. There are also medical practitioners who specialize in this field, and most of them are part of the American Board of Medical Specialties (AMBS).
Usually, preventive medicine refers to the general or public setting such as the prevention or management of a disease outbreak, immunization, and other forms of prophylaxis. However, it can also involve occupational medicine, or the prevention and management of conditions that normally affect those in the workforce. For example, those who work on desk jobs have an increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders. It can also refer to aerospace medicine, which refers not only to health care but also research on how to improve conditions for workers in the aerospace industry, including those who need to work in outer space.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
Preventive medicine is recommended to:
Everyone - As they say prevention is always better than cure, and there is no perfect time for preventive measures than as soon as possible. Everyone is encouraged to undergo preventive medicine consultation, especially as a person gets older, in order to screen, detect, diagnose, and mitigate illnesses that can lead to long-term disability and even premature death.
People who are considered high risk - Certain factors can increase the risk of morbidity and death of an individual. For instance, those who have high blood pressure are more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, and thus, may need to consult a cardiologist. The same advice goes to those who have stenosis (narrowing of the arteries) due to the buildup of cholesterol deposits.
Those who carry certain mutated or defective genes - Although having these genes does not mean the person will automatically become ill, it significantly increases the risk. For instance, women who have mutated genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2 have more than 80% chance of developing breast cancer. They are also susceptible to ovarian cancer.
Individuals who have a family history of diseases – Some conditions run in the family. Normally, the illness appears much earlier for those who have a family history of a certain condition when compared to the general population. Preventive medicine can ensure that the disease is prevented or, if not, managed very early so it does not cause serious harm to the person.
Those who are exposed to certain environmental and lifestyle factors – Aside from genes, environmental and lifestyle factors can also boost the risk of certain medical conditions. An example is smoking cigarettes. Smokers have an increased risk of suffering from various medical conditions including lung cancer.
Travelers – Preventive medicine can also apply to travelers, who may be going to countries where infection and contraction of certain diseases are high.
How Does the Procedure Work?
One of the first steps that doctors take is determining the level of prevention, which can range from primary to tertiary. It is primary if the goal is to prevent the occurrence of disease. This can be accomplished by immunization (normally through vaccination), healthy lifestyle, and cessation of substance abuse. It is secondary if the goal is to detect a disease and address it before other serious symptoms appear. These include cancer screening. It is tertiary if there is already an existing condition but that preventive medicine consultation is necessary to significantly reduce the likelihood of a more complex treatment, long-term disability, and even death.
Consultations occur when a general practitioner or the insurance company refers the patient to a specialist. When they take place, however, depends on many factors such as age and condition. For example, for people below 40 years old, blood pressure consultations are usually scheduled every two years unless they are diagnosed with hypertension. Dental consultations are often once a year while eye consultations are conducted every two years.
During the consultation, the doctor will keep track of the progress of not only the disease but also the general health and well-being of the patient. The absence of any symptom does not automatically mean the person is healthy. Thus, a variety of exams are expected to be carried out. For example, at a particular age, certain cancer screenings are conducted. Vaccination is also updated.
Possible Risks and Complications
Not everyone goes through preventive medicine consultation for a number of reasons, but usually, it is because of complacency and the lack of incentive to go through with it. Compounding the problem is the possibility that the necessary consultation is not covered by insurance or there is no nearby doctor who can perform it.
Atkins D, Barton M. The periodic health examination. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 14.
Guide to Clinical Preventive Services 2014. Recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Name/tools-and-resources-for-better-preventive-care. Accessed March 9, 2015.