Popular media talks about “free” preventive exams or physicals offered through the Affordable Care Act (Hey reporters! They aren’t free). Millions dutifully head to their doctor each year to receive their preventive exam. But are these exams truly effective in preventing future health issues?
Did the ACA create a “wellness culture” across society as hoped with these preventive programs? Unfortunately not. It seems the ACA created more healthcare services that otherwise would not have been necessary or utilized. There may be isolated exceptions, but the U.S. healthcare system still focuses on sickness rather than wellness. Preventive care exams are mostly to detect sickness, not to promote wellness.
Annual visits may be described as preventive but seem to be merely annual physicals that create a record of basic measures and perhaps catch illness earlier. Sometimes the incentives for preventive or wellness exams are the sole reason for a patient to attend them. Many large employers offer bonuses, gift cards, and other rewards for completing a wellness exam.
The ACA disappointment is that wellness seems to be missing. Do we need to pay a doctor to tell us annually that we eat too much, drink too much, or smoke too much? Yes, many of us do. Maybe we need a doctor to translate the effects of habits into disease process, pain, and death to help us understand the importance. Instruction on how to change habits would be a powerful method to promote wellness.
We live in a time where a high percentage of U.S. medical care, disease processes, and healthcare costs are caused by lifestyle choices. Do preventive exams address lifestyle factors such as a taxing career, mental stress, family dynamics, and more? Does the ACA overall address these lifestyle choices? In most cases they do not and require extra effort on the part of the patient to address said issues.
Let’s face it, traditional medicine is not designed to promote good lifestyles. Medicine can, however, keep you living a long time despite your lifestyle. Many see medicine as the solution and forego any attempt at living a healthier life.
The cost of preventing future sickness will no doubt be less than those incurred once an illness or condition is diagnosed. We tend to think of costs in purely financial terms, but there are costs to our health if we do not live a healthy life. It can be more expensive to join a gym, eat more natural foods, and live an active life, but those costs are preferential to the result of not engaging in these practices. It’s time we start focusing on wellness from the start and commit to good habits before a physician or medical professional advises so.