Reviewed by: Scott Selinger, MD, FACP
Written by: Lauryn Feil
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7 out of 10 Americans die each year from chronic diseases, many of which are preventable. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even certain types of cancer are among the various chronic diseases that can often be prevented, delayed, or alleviated to extend a person’s quality and longevity of life. These diseases can be disabling, especially if left undiagnosed or untreated. But, in many cases, utilizing preventive care methods, such as diet, exercises, stress management, and other lifestyle changes, can be key in preventing many chronic conditions.
We all want to live longer, healthier, and happier lives, and according to Scott Selinger, MD, FACP, internal medicine specialist in UT Health Austin’s Primary Care Clinic, there is no magic pill or hidden secret to accomplishing this. “It comes down to being mindful of the choices you make every single day,” says Dr. Selinger, “such as what you eat, how much you eat, whether or not you exercise, how you sit, your stress levels, your blood pressure, and things that affect your overall mood and happiness. These are determinants of long-term health overall.”
Making healthy choices every day to invest in your long-term health is otherwise known as preventive health care. Preventive care is different than the care you may otherwise receive when you know something is wrong with your body. For example, if you fall and land on your wrist and it immediately starts to swell and turn purple, you’re likely going to go to the emergency room and receive a diagnosis of a broken bone. That type of care is called diagnostic care. In similar scenarios your healthcare provider is diagnosing a health issue based on your symptoms and then delivering treatment based on their knowledge of how to heal your body.
Preventive care, on the other hand, does not involve a diagnosis, but rather understanding the steps you can take now to prevent certain diagnosis in the future. “If we equate our bodies to machines we frequently use, similar to your car, house, or bike, we know that these things need regular upkeep or you may, all of a sudden, be faced with a broken water heater, a burst pipe, or premature wear and tear,” explains Dr. Selinger. “All of these things people are more familiar with because there are industries built around them, but it’s a lot less clear when it comes to your body because the results are a lot less apparent and nobody hands you a maintenance checklist when you’re born.”
This is where ongoing guidance from your healthcare provider comes in. You may not know the best way to lose weight or how to stop smoking, which is why establishing a relationship with a primary care physician can help you get the answers you need and is extremely important in maintaining good health overall . Even if you think you’re as healthy as you’ve ever been, scheduling a check-up each year can help your doctor keep track of any changes in your health as you age while providing care and advice when things do inevitably arise.
Preventive care also involves immunizations and boosters, lab work, and regular screenings to test for early signs of disease. While they may seem like a burden to keep up with, screenings and tests are intended to help you and your doctor stay informed and empowered when it comes to making decisions regarding your health. Catching things early, after all, means quicker treatment, less health issues down the road, fewer doctor’s appointments, and less money out of your pocket.
“The goal is to keep people from making unexpected trips to the hospital or to their healthcare provider,” says Dr. Selinger. “For example, if you’ve been taking steps to lower your cholesterol for a long period of time, you’re less likely to have a heart attack, which can be very expensive and dangerously life threatening. And while you can’t prevent everything, staying on top of things definitely makes it easier to manage if anything does occur.”
So, where can you start? Preventive care measures include maintaining a healthy diet and weight, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking, and managing stress levels as well as receiving annual exams, recommended screenings, and immunizations. It may seem like a lot to manage, but UT Health Austin care teams make it easier by incorporating registered dietitians, physical therapists, mental and behavioral health specialists, and a variety of other experts who are available to you depending on your specific care needs
“While we are here to be your healthcare consultants, the power is absolutely in your hands,” says Dr. Selinger, “We can’t (and don’t want to) make you do anything you feel is not in your body’s best interest, but we are certainly happy to help steer you in the right direction and offer guidance when you need it.”
To learn more about UT Health Austin’s Primary Care Clinic or make an appointment, visit here.