Definition and Overview

Preventive medicine, also known as prophylaxis or preventive healthcare, is a type of a health care service that aims to prevent the development of diseases, instead of treating them when they do occur.

There are three levels of preventive medicine, namely:

Primary prevention - This level of preventive medicine aims to eliminate disease-causing agents, or to increase the patient’s resistance to certain diseases. The physician typically recommends immunization or vaccination against certain diseases, prescribes lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking, starting a healthy diet, or engaging in an exercise regimen), or dispenses healthcare advice.

The promotion of good health and specific protection from diseases characterize this level of preventive medicine. Health promotion often involves life choices that are not of a clinical nature, which, aside from preventing the onset of chronic illnesses in the future, can also improve the patient’s general sense of well-being.

Protecting the body against specific diseases, such as sexually transmitted diseases, require health education and the provision of prophylactics, such as condoms.

The primary level of preventive medicine can also involve the services of a nutritionist, who can recommend certain changes or additions to the patient’s diet to ensure good health in the future.

Secondary prevention - This level of preventive medicine involves detecting diseases early, or addressing symptoms that can lead to serious complications later on in life. Secondary preventive medicine is ideal for patients with a genetic predisposition or family history of certain diseases. While the disease will perhaps affect the patient in the future, the impact can be significantly minimized when the symptoms are diagnosed and treated earlier.

Tertiary prevention - This level of preventive medicine aims to minimize the negative impact of symptomatic disease, which may include permanent disability or even death. Tertiary prevention often comes in the form of rehabilitation and other forms of therapy. It can also involve surgical procedures that aim to stop the spread or eventual progression of other types of diseases.

Rehabilitation measures in tertiary preventive medicine often involve mental, physical, and social aspects. Maximizing the patient’s remaining physical capabilities and functions also play an important role in this stage.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Patients of all ages, ranging from infants to the elderly, can undergo preventive medicine follow-up consultations. Depending on the levels that best fit the conditions or diseases they might or are currently experiencing, medication, therapy, and other healthcare services can be provided upon the recommendation or prescription of their doctors.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 48.1% of deaths in the United States involve preventable causes such as smoking tobacco, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, alcohol consumption, communicable diseases, toxicants, traffic collisions, firearm incidents, sexually transmitted infections, and drug abuse. Most of these causes can be addressed by preventive medicine and follow-up sessions.

Other leading causes of preventable deaths in other parts of the world include poor sanitation, unsafe water, high cholesterol, hypertension, and malnutrition.

It is important for people who are predisposed to a variety of chronic diseases, or in the case of some individuals, injuries (such as athletes and other individuals engaging in high-risk professions), to see a doctor for preventive measures.

How is the Procedure Performed?

Follow-up sessions for preventive healthcare are not unlike a typical consultation with a primary care physician. The doctor will ask the general questions about the patient's lifestyle choices, perform a physical examination, and if required, order diagnostic tests to determine the patient’s overall health and if preventive or rehabilitative measures recommended previously have translated into positive results.

Physical examination and diagnostic procedures can vary and are dependent on the patient’s age, physical condition, specific types of diseases or complications, and gender. For example, certain screening tests do not apply to both men and women, or people who have not smoked in their lives or are not predisposed to certain conditions. The doctor performing the follow-up consultation will look into the patient’s medical history, including the information on previous preventive medicine consultations, to determine the efficacy and efficiency of preventive measures that have been previously taken.

After the follow-up consultation, the patient will either be provided with a preventive plan or the doctor will make necessary changes if the patient was already given one before but did not achieve the desired results. The patient can also be recommended for additional care with a specialist if deemed necessary.

Possible Risks and Complications

Follow-up consultations in preventive medicine are generally safe and come without risk or complication as long as no surgical procedure or medication has been prescribed.


  • The United States Department of Health and Human Services
  • American Medical Association
  • Healthcare.govs
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