In addition to treating you when you are sick, your doctor can help you follow a program designed to help you stay healthy. Many physicians follow guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. This expert panel advises doctors about which preventive services you need, depending on your age, medical history, and family history.
What is a preventive service?
A preventive service might be a test, an immunization or vaccine, or it might be advice from your doctor. Preventive services can detect disease or help prevent illness or other health problems. Preventive services can include:
- Tests (also called screenings) to check your general health or the health of certain parts of your body
- Regular measurements of weight and blood pressure
- Advice about diet, exercise, tobacco, alcohol and drug use, stress, and accident prevention
- Immunizations (“shots”) for both children and adults
- Special tests at certain times in your life, such as during pregnancy and beginning at age 50
Will my doctor tell me which preventive services I need?
Yes. Follow your doctor’s advice about checkups, healthy lifestyle choices, and medicines that prevent health problems, such as blood pressure medicine. Preventive services are sometimes offered in your community (for example, blood pressure tests at the local pharmacy or shopping center). If you’re not sure you need the service being offered, ask your doctor.
Who pays for preventive services?
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires every health plan to cover preventive services. This means you don’t need to pay a co-payment or deductible for preventive services. Coverage for preventive services vary by state, so you should carefully review the services covered by your current plan. Some preventive services covered under the ACA include blood pressure screening, HIV screening, immunizations, well-woman visits, and cervical, colon, and breast cancer screenings.
View a complete list of preventive services covered by insurance plans that meet ACA requirements.
Path to improved health
What preventive services do women need?
Adult women should have their weight and blood pressure checked regularly. They should also have a Pap test (also called a Pap smear) at least every 3 years to screen for cervical cancer starting at age 21. If screening for high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) is done with a Pap test, the Pap test interval can be extended to every 5 years. Women 65 and older should be tested for osteoporosis. Women younger than 65 who are at risk should also be tested.
Between the ages of 50 and 74, women should have a mammogram every 2 years to screen for breast cancer. Women who have risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family history of breast cancer, may need to have mammograms more often or start having them sooner. Women should be tested for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50 and continuing until age 75. Certain people may need to continue being tested for colorectal cancer until age 85.
These are routine tests that everyone should have. If your doctor orders these tests for you, it does not mean they think you have a health problem. Your doctor will also make sure you have all the shots you need.
Your doctor may give you advice about exercise and a healthy diet. For example, your doctor may tell you how much calcium you need to prevent bone problems, or they may talk to you about taking folic acid before you get pregnant. Your doctor may also give you advice about tobacco, alcohol and drug use, and sexually transmitted infections. Your doctor may also talk to you about injury prevention practices, such as using seat belts and having smoke detectors in your home.
What preventive services do men need?
Adult men should have their weight and blood pressure checked regularly. Men 35 and older should have their cholesterol levels checked regularly. Beginning at age 50 and continuing until age 75, men should be tested for colorectal cancer. Certain people may need to continue being tested for colorectal cancer until age 85. If your doctor orders this test, it does not mean they think you have cancer. This is a routine test that everyone should have. Your doctor will also make sure you have all the shots you need.
Your doctor may give you advice about exercise and a healthy diet. Your doctor may also give you advice about tobacco, alcohol and drug use, and sexually transmitted infections. Your doctor may also talk to you about injury prevention practices, such as using seat belts and having smoke detectors in your home.
What preventive services do children need?
Shots are one of the most important preventive services for children. Shots (also called vaccines or immunizations) protect children from diseases such as polio, measles, and mumps.
Your doctor will check your child to make sure they are growing and developing properly. Your doctor will tell you what you can do to keep your child’s teeth healthy. Your doctor may also give you advice about how to keep your child safe from accidents and injuries (for example, using car seats and seat belts, and keeping your child away from poisons and electric outlets). Your doctor will also talk to you about teaching your child healthy eating habits and exercise habits. Your doctor can tell you how to teach your child about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. You can also ask your doctor for tips on how to talk to an older child about avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Things to consider
The choices you make about the way you live are important to your health. Here are some choices you can make to help yourself stay healthy:
- Don’t use any form of tobacco.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, or not at all.
- Don’t use illegal drugs.
- Practice safe sex.
- Use seat belts (and car seats for children) when riding in a car or truck.
- See your doctor regularly for preventive care.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What preventive services do I need?
- Do I have increased risk for any diseases or conditions?
- What should I be doing to live my healthiest life?
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.