The concept of preventive medicine is very similar to the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Many of the problems facing those in developed countries are related to chronic diseases that occur because of long-standing health or lifestyle habits. For example, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure (hypertension) are all linked to obesity. The focus of preventive medicine is to keep patients healthy and to stop a chronic disease from developing. Preventive medicine also screens for problems to help treat the issues in its early stages and uses techniques like immunizations to prevent infectious diseases.
In one sense, all physicians practice preventive medicine. However, the American College of Preventive Medicine notes that preventive medicine is focused on the health of individuals, communities, and defined populations. The American Board of Medical Specialties recognizes three distinct specialties: aerospace medicine, occupational medicine, and public health and general preventive medicine. The crew members and passengers of aerospace vehicles are generally healthy but face specific risks associated with space flight; aerospace medicine is focused on clinical care and prevention of problems associated with experiences like weightlessness. Occupational medicine focuses on the workplace, while public health preventive medicine is focused on communities.
For the average primary care doctor, such as an internist or family doctor, preventive medicine covers all the bases. For example, tetanus immunizations prevent the disease, but patients should have a booster periodically, so a doctor tracks patients’ immunization status. Flu immunizations should be given annually. A physical examination can pick up early signs of a disease, as can routine lab tests. Screening for cancer is part of preventive medicine. Patient education about lifestyle management like diet, exercise, sleep, and lifestyle habits like drinking and smoking are part of preventive medicine. At the community level, preventive medicine might include public awareness campaigns about health risks, water fluoridation or immunization clinics.
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