How Do We Emphasize Prevention in Healthcare?

Prevention in healthcare saves lives and money, and it keeps all of us healthier. Not many know about preventive medicine, because much of our medical system focuses on treating symptoms and disease. We all have a good idea of what prevention is and why it’s important. We can all agree on the need to take basic health steps such as drinking water, eating right, and exercising.

Health professionals who focus on prevention use a system to do their work. We thought we’d share some of that with you, as it’s interesting and not often discussed.

Primary prevention focuses on avoiding occurrence of disease, and most health prevention activities fall into this type. Vaccines and condoms are two examples of primary prevention. They stop illness before it can start. In the case of condoms, they prevent unwanted pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted disease.

Secondary prevention methods detect and treat disease in the early stages so it does not cause further health issues. The PSA screening test for prostate cancer, mammogram, and Pap smear are considered secondary prevention because they catch cancer early to make treatment possible.

Tertiary prevention aims to lower the negative effects of current disease by reducing complications of the illness. One example includes using nebulizer medication, respiratory therapy, and oxygen therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In fact, most of the therapies (rehabilitation, occupational, physical) are tertiary prevention because they attempt to restore function at the highest possible level.

Quaternary prevention includes health interventions for avoiding over diagnosis and overtreatment. One example is providing palliative or comfort care after a patient has reached the point in illness that warrants stopping curative measures. Simply listening to the patient often gives information about overtreatment. If the patient is sleepy too much, it might indicate over-prescription of medication.

In addition to the four types of prevention noted above, prevention also occurs in a tiered system, which is described below. Often, behavior that leads to a health issue is addressed in the prevention strategy.

Universal prevention involves a large, similar population, such as a school or workplace to prevent a health problem. Typically, primary prevention occurs here.

Selective prevention targets groups who are at risk of developing a health issue. The group members share certain common traits, such as family history or age.

Indicated prevention narrows the group further to by using a screening process to identify individuals who already show signs of the health issue or dangerous behavior, such as smoking or drinking.

One more type of prevention is noteworthy. Environmental prevention methods address the illness or behavior at the community level and use restrictions to manage the illness or behavior. Quarantines, city and county laws, and smoking bans are environmental prevention measures.