doctor touching interactive wall


Preventive Health Care

What if it was possible to prevent diseases, and all it took was a visit to the doctor’s office? It sounds like an advertising slogan, but it’s actually true.

Preventive care helps your doctor spot disease early. If something is found, it’s easier to treat. (Learn more)

The guidelines you’ll follow vary by age.

  • In your 20s and 30s, you’ll have screening exams and vaccines to check off, but you’ll also give your doctor a baseline to compare later tests to. (Learn more)
  • In your 40s through your 60s, your checks will come closer together. And you’ll have new screening protocols to follow, including some for cancer. (Learn more)
  • When you’re 70 and older, you still need preventive care. Your doctor will perform screenings similar to those you had earlier in life, but you’ll have a few new tests too. (Learn more)

Women have special screening needs, both when they’re in childbearing years and beyond. (Learn more) Your race can increase your risk of some types of illness, and your doctor may customize your schedule for that as well. (Learn more)

Your lifestyle plays a role in disease risk, and your doctor will talk about your choices in every visit. But genetics can also inform your risk of some cancers, and that might call for a tighter screening schedule. (Learn more)

If cost worries you, we have good news. Most preventive services are covered by health plans. And since testing protocols change all the time, you may not need the tests in the future that you require now. (Learn more)

What Is Preventive Health Care?

You’re accustomed to visiting the doctor when you’re sick. You explain your symptoms, you have a few tests, and you walk out with a solution. Preventive health care is different.

In this model, you visit the doctor when you’re well. The goal is to keep you from getting sick in the first place.

A preventive health care appointment typically involves four components:

  1. A risk assessment: You and your doctor talk about your family history of disease, your lifestyle, and your diet. That data helps paint a picture of the conditions you might have now, as well as those you might develop soon.
  2. A counseling conversation: Your doctor helps you understand how the choices you make impact your disease risk. Together, you identify how you might shift a few key decisions to stay healthier in the future.
  3. Screening tests: Don’t worry about poking and prodding. Some screening tests involve little more than taking your temperature or assessing your blood pressure. Others are more intense, but thankfully, they don’t happen at every visit.
  4. Vaccinations: Infectious disease risk fades in the face of a properly timed shot. Your doctor will ensure you’re up to date.

Your doctor’s job involves more than preventing disease. You also need care for emergent illness. And there are many things that can bother you that you can’t be screened for (like a broken leg).

In general, when we’re discussing preventive health care, we’re talking about five main conditions:

  1. Cancer
  2. Heart disease
  3. Diabetes
  4. Osteoporosis
  5. Infectious disease

These are among the top killers of Americans in the United States, so it makes sense that doctors would focus special appointments to prevent them or catch them early.

Sadly, few people take advantage. According to research from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, just 8 percent of adults get all the preventive services experts recommend.

Preventive Health Care in Your 20s and 30s

doctor checking blood pressure

When you’re young, major health issues aren’t cause for concern. You believe you’ll stay healthy for the rest of your life. Preventive appointments can ensure that happens, and they should start while you’re in your 20s.

There is no set schedule for doctors’ visits at this age, says the U.S. National Library of Medicine, but you should visit your doctor regularly for:

  • Blood pressure readings. You should be tested at least once yearly. If the numbers are high, you might need more frequent testing. Chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease prompt early testing too.
  • Cholesterol testing. Waxy buildup in your arteries and veins makes your heart work too hard. You’ll start testing during this age range, and the frequency at which the screens are repeated depends on the results.
  • Diabetes screenings. High blood pressure or excess body weight will prompt a blood test for diabetes. Family history could encourage your doctor to start testing at this age, too.
  • You’ll need a flu shot every year, and you might need boosters of shots you got as a child. Your doctor can help you understand which shots are right for you.

Preventive Health Care in Your 40s Through Your 60s

Disease risk rises with every additional candle on your birthday cake. When you reach 40, you’ll need to visit your doctor on a set schedule. And each appointment will involve more tests.

You’ll visit your doctor for:

  • Blood pressure tests. Just as you did in your 20s and 30s, you’ll need this screening yearly. High numbers and other health conditions will prompt your doctor to ask for more frequent testing.
  • Cholesterol testing. You’ll need a blood test every five years to check for buildup. If you have other health conditions, you might need more frequent testing.
  • Diabetes screening. After you celebrate your 44th birthday, you’ll need this test every three years. Your doctor might test you more often if you have other risk factors, including a family history of obesity.
  • Colorectal cancer screening. After age 50, you’ll need some kind of test every year. Some you can do at home, and others you’ll need to visit the doctor to complete.
  • You’ll need a flu shot every year, and you’ll also need additional shots, including one to prevent pneumonia and another to prevent shingles.
  • Lung cancer screening. You’ll need an annual test for this form of cancer if you’re 55 and older and you either smoke right now or have quit within the past 15 years.

Preventive Health Care in Your 60s and Beyond

As you age, you’ll need to visit your doctor even more frequently. But there is good news. Some of the tests you became accustomed to in midlife are no longer required as you get older, so your visits may grow a little shorter.

You’ll see your doctor for:

  • Blood pressure tests. You’ll be accustomed to this annual screening when you’re in your 60s. It’s been part of your preventive visits for decades now.
  • Cholesterol testing. You’ll still need a test every five years, and if you have other health conditions, you might need more frequent screenings.
  • Colorectal cancer screening. You’ll need some kind of test every year. But once you reach age 75, your doctor may discontinue them.
  • Diabetes test. Your doctor will test you for this disease every three years or more often if you’re overweight or have a family history.
  • Osteoporosis test. Women will have a test at age 65. Men 70 and older should have one too.
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening. You’ll need this test after your 65th birthday if you have a history of smoking.
  • Lung cancer screening. You’ll need an annual test for this form of cancer if you’re younger than 80 and you either smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years.
  • You’ll need a flu shot every year. After your 65th birthday, you’ll need a pneumococcal vaccine. And you might need boosters for tetanus-diphtheria and shingles.

There is no end date for preventive care, so you won’t reach an age at which it’s not recommended. You’ll always work with your doctor to stay healthy, and together, you’ll work on giving you a long life.

Special Screenings for Women

Women need a few more tests than men, as female reproductive organs are susceptible to several forms of cancer. Most tests are repeated annually. While they can seem inconvenient, they tend to happen quickly.

The American Cancer Society recommends the following screening schedules for women:

  • Age 21 to 29: Women need a cervical cancer screening every three years.
  • Age 30 to 39: Women need a cervical cancer screening every five years.
  • Age 40 to 49: Women need a breast cancer screening annually and a cervical cancer screening every five years.
  • Age 50 to 64: Breast cancer screenings should happen every year until age 54. At age 55, testing should happen every other year. Cervical cancer screening should happen every five years.
  • Age 65 and older: Women need a breast cancer screening every two years.

Women hoping to give birth have even more testing that’s part of a preventive health care package. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says women of childbearing ages should get the following services during a preventive care appointment:

  • Gestational diabetes screenings
  • Sexually transmitted diseases testing, including for hepatitis B, gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, and syphilis
  • Urinary tract infection tests
  • Folic acid supplements
  • Anemia testing

Special Screenings by Race

Your doctor doesn’t judge you by the color of your skin, but being part of a specific race could raise your risk of some types of disease. That could mean you’ll need more frequent testing, or you might need screenings earlier in life.

For example, people of African American heritage face a higher risk of both high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Your doctor might factor that into your screening profile and ensure you get the tests you need when you need them.

Your doctor might also gently encourage you to get all the preventive care you’re entitled to. Research suggests that many people in minority communities don’t get the testing they need.

For example, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that people of color fare worse in terms of accessing doctors and utilizing benefits. They often don’t have primary care doctors to partner with, and if they do, concerns about cost keep them away from appointments they need.

It can take time to find a doctor you trust. And it’s never fun to visit an appointment for needle pokes and other procedures. But remember that these tests can keep you healthier for longer. In some cases, they can save your life. It’s worthwhile to find a doctor who can partner with you.

family with diabetes

A Word About Heredity

Some conditions are sparked by your lifestyle. That’s why your doctor will talk with you about what you eat, how much you exercise, how often you drink alcohol, and more during each visit.

But some conditions are influenced by genes. And that means you might need a tighter schedule due to your family history.

For example, your family may be filled with people who had colon cancer, diabetes, or sudden cardiac death. Your doctor needs to know, as that could mean you’re at higher risk. If that’s the case, your screening schedule should be adjusted accordingly.

Don’t Let Cost Concern You

Reading about appointments, tests, and procedures can make dollar signs swim before your eyes. Don’t let it keep you from getting the help you need. In most cases, this care is protected.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, many health plans are required to cover the cost of the tests we’ve mentioned in this article. You may not have a copayment. You may make an appointment, get care, and never see a bill.

And don’t feel as though you need to remember all the guidelines and ration your care. Screening recommendations change often, and it’s nearly impossible for the average person to keep up with it. Your doctor, on the other hand, is required to know the rules. Your doctor can help you understand when you need a test.

If you’re concerned about medical costs, we have good news to share. Rebates.com offers some of the best prices around on thousands of prescription drugs. If your screening tests flag a problem that medications can fix, we could save you a great deal of money.

Scroll through our website to find out more. We think you’ll be pleased with what you see.

References

Health Insurance Covers 100 Percent of Preventive Care … But What Is Preventive Care? (November 2018). Independence Blue Cross.

Most Americans Miss Out on Preventive Healthcare. (June 2018). Reuters.

Health Screenings for Women Ages 18 to 39. (June 2019). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Health Screenings for Men Ages 18 to 39. (June 2019). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Health Screenings for Men Ages 40 to 64. (June 2019). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Health Screenings for Women Ages 40 to 64. (June 2019). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Health Screenings for Men Over Age 65. (June 2019). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Health Screenings for Women Over Age 65. (June 2019). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Cancer Screening Guidelines by Age. American Cancer Society.

Preventive Care Benefits for Women. U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines. (September 2018). Health Resources and Services Administration.

Key Facts on Health and Health Care by Race and Ethnicity. (June 2016). Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Preventive Care. (February 2017). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

History of ACS Recommendations for the Early Detection of Cancer in People Without Symptoms. (May 2018). American Cancer Society.