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As part of healthcare teams, PAs can prevent morbidities, promote healthy lifestyles, and improve patients' overall health with preventative care.
As Benjamin Franklin famously said, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Even though medical advancements have drastically reduced the prevalence of diseases that were once life-threatening, patients must still be mindful of the diseases we face that have fatal consequences. As medical providers, we know the bedrock of good health is prevention of the appearance or progression of diseases.
Physicians and patients can rely on certified PAs to provide essential preventive care. As front-line medical providers, we conduct physical exams, obtain medical histories, order, perform and interpret lab tests, and prescribe medication. We are prepared during our graduate-level education in both the classroom and clinical rotations to counsel and educate patients, and our ongoing certification maintenance requirements help us stay up-to-date across the spectrum of medicine and the patient life span.
As one of those PAs, I manage treatment plans for patients who are overweight and/or prediabetic. I work with these patients to lower their hemoglobin levels through lifestyle changes, weight loss, and diet modifications that lower sugar intake. These measures decrease the likelihood of patients becoming overtly or uncontrolled diabetics. Controlled blood pressure levels may cost patients less than $5 a month for medications, while uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks or strokes and expensive hospitalizations.
Through early detection, PAs in your office can help prevent the systemic effects these conditions have on patients' bodies. It's less expensive for patients to have controlled blood pressure and blood sugars than to manage kidney disease, neurological disease or other complications.
Like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and many cancers can also be diagnosed and treated early on to prevent long-term complications.
Start with the basics
Patients generally understand that regular check-ups are important to their health, but they may not know what services address their preventive care needs. For example, a patient may have an annual physical but skip bloodwork or decline a prostate exam. PAs can help ensure patients are informed of the appropriate screenings based on their age, gender and other determinants and pre-schedule follow-up appointments before they leave your office.
Here are general recommendations I share with patients:
•Get annual physicals and age recommended screenings: Insurance covers preventative care for most patients. If a patient pays a monthly premium but doesn't use these annual benefits, they are letting a lot of valuable insurance money go to waste. Patients need to know the status of their health and address issues as early as possible.
•Exercise daily: The Center for Disease Control recommends that most adults exercise at moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes per week. This can be divided across the 5-7 days of the week. Exercise should include aerobic (heart conditioning), muscle strengthening (weights) and stretching exercises. For children, the recommendation is at least 60 minutes of exercise daily.
•Get adequate sleep: With increasingly busier schedules, people tend to sleep less often. While adults should get 7-8 hours per night, most of us don't. Sleep affects our body in multiple ways. For example, a tired brain tends to make poorer decisions when it comes to emotions, exercise, food choices and stress management.
•Keep those teeth clean: This includes regular brushing, flossing and timely dental visits. Good dental hygiene equals improved heart health. There are studies that link plaque buildup and poor dentition to poorer heart outcomes and inflammation.
PAs can also help your practice expand healthy living initiatives. For instance, my practice offers fasting annual lab draws, health coaching for smoking cessation, and weight loss coaching/weekly weight checks, among other resources. I have also developed healthy eating and healthy living courses and work as a certified health coach helping patients make sustainable lifestyle changes.
Ultimately, healthier patients tend to be "easier" patients because they require less time, less follow-up and less medications to manage. Certified PAs are proven providers who can help patients meet their wellness goals and reduce incidences of serious medical conditions.
Ambreen Nadeem, PA-C, has practiced family medicine for eight years. She works at InHouse Physicians in Dallas, Texas, a clinic located where the patient population historically has not sought healthcare services often. There, she works to ensure patients understand what preventative care means and teaches Mindful Eating classes to help patients achieve long-term health goals.
This blog was written in partnership with the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.