Clinically Speaking: Preventive Care and Wellness

Preventive care has many facets but the cornerstone is wellness screenings, which can help providers catch cancer and chronic disease early when it is easier and less costly to treat.

Preventive care is defined as routine care that includes screenings, check-ups and patient counseling to prevent illness, disease and other health problems. Wellness is the act of practicing healthy habits each day to attain better physical and mental health outcomes that allow an individual to thrive versus just survive.

Prevention and wellness are so important because, when practiced together, they can help patients avoid potentially serious health conditions or obtain early diagnosis and treatment, which can result in savings for plans and patients.

The cornerstone of preventive care is wellness screenings. They can help providers guide patients to make choices that promote better health and can catch health problems early, when they are easier and less costly to treat.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), chronic diseases that are avoidable through preventive care services account for 75 percent of the nation’s health care spending and reduce productivity in the U.S. workforce by $260 billion annually. If everyone in the country received recommended clinical care, it could save more than 100,000 lives each year.

Cancer and Chronic Illness Screenings

While preventive care has many facets, these are the most common screening tools and tests to help detect cancer and chronic disease in adults.    

  • Cervical cancer screenings: Women should visit with a primary care provider or an OB/GYN regularly for cervical cancer screenings. New cervical cancer diagnoses have decreased by 14 percent, primarily due to advances over the past 30 years in getting women regular Pap tests and screenings for human papillomavirus (HPV) – which causes several types of cancer, most specifically cervical cancer.
  • Mammograms: Critical for women age 40 and older, or earlier for those who have a family history of breast cancer, are regular mammograms – specifically tomosynthesis or 3D mammography, combined with MRIs in some cases, depending on risk factors. Early detection through mammograms has proven to reduce the risk of death from breast cancer by 49 percent.
  • Colorectal cancer screenings: While colorectal cancer is more prominent in men, women are also at risk. So, it is important for every adult 45 and older to get regular screenings, including immunochemical testing of stool samples, often with at-home test kits, and colonoscopies. This combination has been shown to reduce annual colorectal cancer incidence by more than 25 percent and mortality by more than 52 percent. 
  • Other cancer screenings: Based on the patient’s age, health risk factors and family history, doctors may recommend additional screenings, such as for lung cancer, which is done through a low-dose CT scan. Other important tests include labs or blood work to screen for chronic conditions such as prediabetes, diabetes and hyperlipidemia, and regular blood pressure readings to screen for hypertension, known as the “silent killer.”

Overcoming Barriers to Getting Regular Wellness Exams

Annual wellness visits, including a discussion of lifestyle measures, such as diet and exercise, are vital for doctors to provide a more personalized plan for a patient’s health. It’s important to recognize that although these visits and preventive care are shown to reduce overall health care costs and improve patient outcomes, as many as one in three people under the age of 50 in the U.S. does not have a primary care provider, and an estimated 150 million adults skip or forgo an annual check-up. Studies have revealed logistical barriers, such as taking time off from work, traveling and waiting, as well as negative emotions tied to visiting a doctor’s office.

Innovations in health care are helping to close the gaps in patients’ ability to access primary and preventive care services. As the past 18 months have shown us, many patient health care needs can be handled through virtual visits, including wellness screenings. In our own recent study, 54 percent of respondents indicated they are open to using telehealth for annual check-ups, citing convenience and the avoidance of sick people as key benefits.

We expect more health plans and employers will partner with telehealth providers to make primary care services, including annual wellness visits, available to more members virtually.

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