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Prevention, wait… what?

Many of us heard our parents (or grandparents) say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The original quote came from Benjamin Franklin while advising fire-threatened Philadelphians in the 1730s.

It is still valid, especially when taking care of our health.

Many get confused as to what exactly preventive care is when it comes to health care. We seem to understand that things like taking regular walks or getting an immunization are part of prevention, but the truth is, there is so much more.

Preventive health care is what you do to stay healthy before you get sick. So why should you go to the doctor when you’re healthy? Preventive care can help you stay healthier, improve your quality of life, and lower your health care costs.

As of 2015, only eight percent of U.S. adults ages 35 and older had received all the high-priority, appropriate clinical preventive services recommended for them. Five percent of adults did not receive any such services. We suspect this is less an information gap and more likely a gap in access or implementation.

For 12 months bridging 2022 and 2023, almost half of all American women skipped preventive health (ex., an annual checkup, a vaccine, or a recommended test or treatment), most commonly because they could not afford out-of-pocket costs and had trouble getting an appointment.

When asked, for many of these women, high out-of-pocket costs and difficulty getting an appointment were among the leading reasons for missing a service.

What is considered preventive care?

Your annual checkup – This can include a physical exam and essential general health screenings for things like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and other health conditions. In these situations, prevention care includes finding and managing conditions before they get more severe.

Cancer screenings – Many cancers, unfortunately not all, if found early, can be easily treated and, as a result, have a high cure rate. Most people do not experience cancer symptoms in the earliest, most treatable stages. That is why screenings are recommended at certain times and intervals throughout your life. For example, it is recommended that both men and women begin colorectal cancer screenings starting at age 45, for some, even earlier. Other preventive screenings for women include Pap tests and mammograms, depending on age and health risk. If you are a male, you can talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of prostate screening.

Childhood immunizations – Immunizations for children include polio (IPV), DTaP, HIB, HPV, hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, measles and MMR (mumps and rubella), COVID-19, and others.

Adult immunizations – Includes Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) boosters and immunizations against pneumococcal diseases, shingles, and COVID-19.

Yearly flu shot – Flu shots can help reduce your risk of getting the flu by up to 60%. If you get the flu, getting the flu vaccine can significantly reduce the chances of serious flu symptoms that could lead to hospitalization. Those with some chronic conditions, like asthma, are particularly vulnerable to the flu.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF or Task Force) makes evidence-based recommendations about preventive services such as screenings, behavioral counseling, and preventive medications. Task Force recommendations are created for primary care professionals by primary care professionals.

Better to treat people before they get sick(er)

Yes, there are clinical preventive treatments available for many chronic diseases; these include intervening before disease occurs (called primary prevention), finding and treating disease at an early stage (secondary prevention), and managing disease to slow or keep it from getting worse (tertiary prevention). These interventions apply to behavioral health conditions, like anxiety or depression, as well as other physical health conditions. Further, when combined with lifestyle changes, it can substantially reduce the amount of chronic disease and disability and death associated with it. However, we have seen in health care that these services are considerably underutilized despite the human and economic burden of chronic diseases.

We do not completely understand the underutilization of preventive services. We, as providers, may also get distracted by the day-to-day urgency of primary care. The number of recommended services requires considerable time to plan for and deliver. This is also a result of shortages across the country in the primary care workforce.

Preventing disease and injuries is critical to improving America’s health. When we invest in prevention, the benefits are broadly shared. Children grow up in environments that nurture their healthy development, and people are productive and healthy inside and outside the workplace.


Preventing disease requires more than the information to make healthy choices. Knowledge is critical, but communities must also reinforce and support health in other ways, for example, by making healthy choices easy and affordable. We will succeed in creating healthy community environments when “the air and water are clean and safe; when housing is safe and affordable; when transportation and community infrastructure provide people with the opportunity to be active and safe; when schools serve children healthy food and provide quality physical education; and when businesses provide healthy and safe working conditions and access to comprehensive wellness programs.” All sectors contribute to health, including housing, transportation, education, and culturally competent care.

Keep Getting the Preventive Care You Need

Make sure you continue to keep your health coverage so you can keep getting the preventive care you need. When you get your Medicaid renewal packet in the mail, fill it out and return it on time, and make sure to keep checking your mail, email, and PEAK mailbox and to take action when you get official messages. Learn more here.