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Preventive Care: Why It Matters Now More Than Ever

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a decline in regular follow-up with primary care providers (PCPs) as well as delays of important screenings and immunizations. With social distancing and stay-at-home orders in place, most of us were not thinking about making it to our routine check-ups. We were terrified of going out into the world. Many avoided staying on track with preventive care due to fear of catching the virus in doctors’ offices and other medical appointment settings. Now here we are, over a year after the start of the pandemic, trying to regain some semblance of normalcy.

What is preventive care and why is it so important?

Preventive care is routine healthcare with a focus on preventing disease or illness. It includes recommended services such as routine PCP and dental check-ups, immunizations and age-appropriate screenings (or more frequent screenings for those at higher risk). Preventive services can help maintain your health, avoid or delay the onset of disease, or keep already diagnosed conditions from becoming worse. Through preventive care, your PCP can identify problems that may otherwise go unnoticed early on before they become harder to treat.

Preventive care is now more important than ever because individuals with uncontrolled or untreated conditions like heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease (among others) have a higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19 illness.

The COVID-19 vaccine is an important preventive tool. The COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19 and also greatly reduce the chance of severe illness, hospitalization or death.

How can you get back on track?

Contact your PCP to schedule a routine check-up as soon as possible. Your PCP can identify which immunizations, services and screenings you may be due (or overdue) for and help you set those up. If you don’t have a PCP, you can start your search by talking with friends and family for recommendations. To find a PCP in your plan’s network, CareFirst members can visit carefirst.com/findadoc, or if you’re a member of another plan, contact your health insurer.

Don’t be afraid to go to the doctor.

Doctors’ offices are safe and have added safety measures such as temperature checks, COVID-19 symptom screening, universal masking, and physical distancing in waiting rooms. With expanded access to telehealth, virtual visits may be an option for those who continue to be fearful or have transportation barriers.

You may also have access to virtual disease management programs or care coordination through your health insurance if you have conditions like prediabetes, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What else can you do to maintain your health?

In addition to preventive care services, lifestyle modifications can help prevent and manage chronic disease. Boredom, stress, anxiety, depression and other factors like gym closures contributed to unwanted weight gain (jokingly referred to as the “Quarantine 15”) and other poor health outcomes during COVID-19. Healthy eating, exercise, stress management and smoking cessation are ways to help us get back to optimal health.

Eat Healthy Foods

USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy, and protein. Talk to your doctor about your nutrition. Your doctor may even refer you to a dietician or nutritionist to help with weight loss or following a diet specific to your condition. Virtual visits with a nutritionist are convenient and may be offered through your health insurance.

Exercise

Physical activity guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services include doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week for adults. This should be spread out over the course of a week. Muscle-strengthening activities are also recommended two or more days a week.

Manage Stress

Excess stress negatively impacts our mental and physical health. Unhealthy stress levels may be linked to problems with sleep, depression, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Eating healthy, exercising, relaxation methods, talking with friends or family, or seeking professional help when needed are some tips to prevent or manage stress. 

Quit Tobacco

“Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the U.S.” (1)

Smoking is a risk factor for serious health problems like lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There are plenty of free resources and support available online or by phone to help you quit. If you’re a CareFirst member, you also have access to online programs and support through your wellness program.

Information and resources:

Remember: When it comes to your health, the best defense is a good offense.

Sources:

(1) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoking Cessation. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2020.