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Preventive Care Visits Grow, Helping Improve Health Outcomes

Preventive Care Visits Grow, Helping Improve Health Outcomes

As they become more educated about their health and what their insurance covers, insured Americans have been increasingly taking advantage of free preventive care visits with their physicians, helping improve their overall health outcomes.

The share of primary care visits focused on preventive care in the U.S. health care system increased to 24.6% in 2019, from just 12.8% in 2001, with the steepest increases noted among Medicare beneficiaries, according to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs.

Coinciding with that increase in preventive care visits, the number of problem-based visits fell by half to 1,417 visits per 1,000 people in 2019, compared to 2,017 per 1,000 in 2001.

In other words, as patient use of preventive care increased, they needed fewer visits to their doctor to address health problems. This backs up findings by other studies that preventive care improves health outcomes, like lowering cholesterol levels, blood pressure, glucose levels for diabetics and body mass index.

Related to this, the study found that during preventive care visits, physicians spent more time with the patient and addressed fewer reasons for the visit compared with problem-based visits.

The extended time during preventive visits allows doctors to gain a deeper understanding of each patient's social determinants of health, which ultimately helps the doctor and patient make informed care decisions.

Sharp rise in preventive lab screenings

Also, during these preventive care visits the doctors were more likely to provide health counseling and order lab screenings than at problem-based visits.

Between 2018 and 2019, preventive lab screenings were ordered in 33.2% of preventive visits, compared to 18.4% of problem-based visits. Also, preventive images or procedures were more common during preventive visits, the study found.

"The growing prevalence of preventive visits could lead to more time for primary care physicians to provide patients with evidence-based counseling and other preventive services," the study authors wrote.

One factor that the study cited as behind the increase in preventive care visits is the advent of the Affordable Care Act in 2011. The law required health insurers, including Medicare, to fully cover patients' annual or regular preventive exams, such as blood work, colonoscopies and cancer screenings, and a number of vaccines.

Beyond the medical benefits, the study underscored the positive impact of preventive visits on physician-patient relationships. Stronger relationships between doctors and patients have been linked to lower patient costs and hospitalizations, leading to better overall health care outcomes.

During this extended time, doctors can discuss patient health risks, preferences and their daily routine, to help spot any red flags.

Preventive care and you

Preventive care can help you stay healthier and, as a result, lower your health care costs.

It can also identify health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes or certain cancers earlier, when they're most treatable. Of course, tackling health issues early helps you get or stay on a healthy track, and reduces the risk of developing other health conditions.

Under the ACA, health plans and Medicare are required to cover a slate of preventive services and vaccines. The entire list of these services can be found here.