As Ben Franklin infamously put it, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Yet when it comes to preventative healthcare, many of us fall short. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans use preventative services at only half the recommended rate.
The CDC explains the importance of preventative care: “Chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, are responsible for 7 of every 10 deaths among Americans each year and account for 75% of the nation’s health spending. These chronic diseases can be largely preventable through close partnership with your healthcare team, or can be detected through appropriate screenings, when treatment works best.”
Clearly, patients should be taking advantage of preventative care—and general practitioners are often the first line of defense when it comes to providing vaccinations, check-ups and routine tests and exams. Here are six ways general practitioners can encourage their patients to practice preventative care:
Give Them a Takeaway
Don’t leave it up to your patient to do all the research on their own. If you have some action you would like your patient to take—whether it’s trying a new diet, starting an exercise regimen or scheduling a cancer screening—give them a handout or more information at the end of the appointment to jog their memory and help them get started once they arrive home. This can be a good old-fashioned sheet of paper, but if you use a telehealth platform (or are trying to be more eco-friendly), you can just as easily share that information digitally via email or a secure messaging system.
Check in Regularly
Checking in with your patients on their progress keeps both of you accountable and encourages them to continue any lifestyle changes you may have recommended. This doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment for either of you, and telehealth platforms make it more convenient than ever for you to instant message your patients and see if they’re having any trouble or complaints. You can also set up automatic reminders for patients to schedule their annual wellness visit and other regular preventative activities through this technology.
Do it All at Once
Sometimes during an appointment, you’ll realize that a patient is lacking on the preventative healthcare front—maybe they haven’t had a blood test done in a while, or they haven’t gotten the flu shot yet this year. If you can, see if you can take care of this preventative work while the patient is still at your office for the appointment. While this won’t always be possible, it’s convenient for both you and the patient, and reduces the chance that the patient will forget to come back at a later date for the extra procedure.
Schedule Appointments Ahead
That being said, in some cases you might need the patient to come back later—say, you’d prefer that they fast before getting that cholesterol blood work done, and they’ve already eaten breakfast today. If this is the case, urge the patient to schedule a follow-up appointment with the front desk before leaving, and walk them over to the administrator and explain what needs to be done and when the appointment should occur. If you can at least get the appointment on the calendar before the patient leaves the building, both of you will have an action plan and a timeline in place for the next steps.
Model Healthy Habits
It’s important for general practitioners to set the example for patients when it comes to preventative care. If you regularly get examined yourself—and talk about this vocally with your patients—you can show them the importance of preventative care instead of just telling them. This extends to a preventative lifestyle as well: Are patients going to stop smoking just because you tell them so, even as they can smell cigarette smoke from your smoke break on your coat? Probably not, so practice what you preach.
Communicate About Insurance
Many patients may avoid preventative exams and screenings because they are afraid of the cost. However, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires “certain private health plans to cover certain recommended preventative services without charging a deductible, copayment, co-insurance, or other cost sharing,” according to the CDC. While you of course won’t know the specifics of each patient’s insurance, encourage them to check with their providers about costs and emphasize that these preventative services are often covered.
Preventative care is a critical component of leading a long, healthy life, and general practitioners are an important advocate for preventative care. Use these six strategies to actively encourage your patients, and they’ll be on the road to wellness faster than they can search “GP near me.”