Traditional medical care focuses on improving health by identifying and treating health problems that have already produced symptoms or complications. In contrast, preventive medical care focuses on preventing health problems from occurring. Preventive care also focuses on diagnosing problems before symptoms or complications arise, when the chances of recovery are greatest. When done well, prevention improves overall health and reduces health care costs.
The general goal of prevention is to reduce a person's likelihood of becoming ill or disabled or of dying prematurely. Preventive medical care is not a case of “one size fits all”; specific goals are developed by and for each person. Specific goals depend heavily on a person's risk profile, that is, the person's risk of developing a disease based on such factors as age, sex, genetic background, lifestyle, and physical and social environment. Factors that increase risk are called risk factors.
Some risk factors are beyond a person's control, such as age, sex, and family history. Other risk factors, such as a person's lifestyle and physical and social environment, can be altered, potentially decreasing risk of developing disorders. In addition, risk can be reduced through good medical care.
Most of the medical care that infants (see Newborns and Infants: Preventive Health Care Visits for Infants), older children (see Preschool and School-Aged Children: Preventive Health Care Visits), and adolescents (see Adolescents: Preventive Health Care Visits) receive (specifically well-child care) is aimed at recognizing and preventing problems. For example, examination focuses on detecting early signs of developing problems. Most vaccinations are given during childhood. Health care practitioners counsel parents about preventing accidents and injuries for children and adolescents.
Last full review/revision September 2007 by James T. Pacala, MD, MS