KAUFFMAN: Prioritizing an ounce of prevention

Published 9:27 am Monday, November 22, 2021

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In 1735, Benjamin Franklin published a persuasive article on fire safety in The Pennsylvania Gazette that began with the now-famous proverb “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This phrase came to mind recently when I realized that I am overdue for a medical check-up. Whether a burning house or an undetected illness, both are examples of personal destruction that could be avoided by investing in some basic precautions.

In my September article “Healthy Habits for Busy Times” we explored the importance of robust nutrition and adequate sleep for boosting our immune systems. Good food and good rest are certainly excellent preventative measures, and continuing these healthy habits can fortify us throughout the upcoming holiday season.

Another important way to preserve our health is to prioritize preventative health care such as annual medical checkups and routine dental visits. During such appointments, providers look for signs of diseases and conditions and offer screenings and other preventative tools to keep us from needing “a pound of cure.”

Unfortunately, many of us put off such appointments, to our own potential detriment. Factors like cost, finding a provider, transportation challenges and work schedules can discourage us from being proactive about our health care. Personally, I lost track of time and have avoided going places during this pandemic.

Establishing a trusting relationship with a primary care provider can be our best defense against illness. Studies show that people who routinely see such a provider are healthier than those who visit only specialists. Death rates from cancer, heart disease and stroke drop significantly, and life spans lengthen. Why? Because a primary care physician can catch things early, when treatments and lifestyle changes have much greater chances of success.

If cost is a barrier to getting preventative care, we can look up our closest Federally Qualified Health Center at www.bphc.hrsa.gov. These clinics work with the uninsured and often provide a sliding scale of costs based on income. If we are insured, most health plans pay for an annual exam at no cost to the patient, as long as we choose a provider that accepts our insurance. Think about that: insurance actuaries run the numbers and know that paying for our check-ups saves them a lot of money in the long run!

Once we have chosen a doctor or nurse practitioner, we need to take the essential first step: schedule the appointment. If you could wait a brief moment while I call about mine… There. It’s on the calendar. Now where was I?

Ah, yes. With a little preparation, our office visit can be productive and pleasant. Here are some tips for making the most of it: write down our top questions at home and bring them with us; arrive 15 to 20 minutes early to fill out paperwork; update our family health history; stay focused on why we are there; and be honest with our answers. We should keep in mind that annual check-ups allow time to catch potential problems, but not necessarily solve them; we may need a follow-up appointment for that.

Prioritizing a little health prevention can pay back big dividends – like giving us more years to enjoy this wonderful world. And we are in luck: if our doctor prescribes more exercise, we can take advantage of the Black Friday special at our local YMCA branches: a $0 join fee from Nov. 22-27!

Chrissie Kaufmann representss the YMCA of Southwest Michigan.