What is Preventive Medicine?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Preventive medicine is a medical discipline that focuses on preventing diseases and promoting a general state of health and well being. In both Europe and the United States, it is considered to be a board specialty, meaning that physicians can focus on this discipline while they get their medical degrees, and use the skills they learn in school to reduce the outbreak of disease epidemics, improve public health, and increase the general quality of life for individuals all over the world. In the West, preventive medicine is practiced as an arm of public health, and it is applied to the whole population, while in Eastern medicine, many doctors practice it on the individual level. Individual Western doctors are sometimes criticized for not practicing it on a patient-by-patient basis, because insurance companies often feel that it is too expensive and time consuming, and will not compensate doctors for preventive measures.

Preventive medicine may include massage.
Preventive medicine may include massage.

When preventive medicine is applied to a whole population, it includes things like extensive work in public health, pest and insect control, vaccinations, food safety, and improvements in hygiene for water supplies, homes, and individuals. As can be seen by looking at this wide variety of topics, a number of specialties are incorporated into successful preventive programs. In developing nations, doctors who specialize in this field are focused on improving hygiene and living conditions to prevent outbreaks, and on vaccinating and educating the population. In the West, preventive medicine includes extensive research and development, monitoring of food supplies, and well trained epidemiology teams who track down an outbreak at its source when one emerges.

Obesity is a preventable disease that has become a serious public health problem in the United States.
Obesity is a preventable disease that has become a serious public health problem in the United States.

When practiced on an individual basis, preventive medicine involves looking at the body as a whole, rather than at the individual parts. Many Eastern disciplines already view the body this way, and practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and other similar disciplines work with their patients to keep the body balanced, happy, and healthy. Measures to treat the body as a whole include herbal regimens, massage, psychotherapy, and dietary changes. The West has slowly accepted the value of this view for individuals, especially with rising obesity rates, and many doctors are starting to incorporate whole body therapy into their practice.

Improving hygiene, and decreasing the transmittance of microorganisms, is a form of preventive medicine.
Improving hygiene, and decreasing the transmittance of microorganisms, is a form of preventive medicine.

Preventive medicine has a long history all over the world, dating back for centuries to the time when people first realized that unclean water made them sick, and that living conditions needed to be more hygienic to prevent illness. Steps made in the field were small, but important, until the 20th century, when numerous governments founded disease prevention centers such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States. These scientific establishments began to set firm guidelines designed to minimize the transmission of disease, improve hygiene, and enable rapid responses to major outbreaks.

Preventive medicine when applied to a population can include pest and insect control.
Preventive medicine when applied to a population can include pest and insect control.

In addition to medicine and science, preventive medicine also looks at economic and social issues, as some populations are clearly more at risk of contracting dangerous diseases than others. Many sociologists, psychologists, and economists work in the field to assist people of low income, education, and social status all over the world. Organizations that promote it work closely with these individuals in the hopes that all people on earth can enjoy healthy, disease free lives.

Good hygiene is part of preventative care.
Good hygiene is part of preventative care.
Western doctors are often criticized for not practicing preventive medicine.
Western doctors are often criticized for not practicing preventive medicine.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon313999

Has preventative medicine become widely implemented now simply because we know what causes some diseases so can work on preventing them, when before it was a matter of treating symptoms of unknown causes? Is preventative medicine now more specific than it was in the past for that reason?

Mammmood

@MrMoody - The medical profession may not have fully embraced some Eastern medical practices such as herbal medicine, but I think they’ve come to the obvious realization that at least some diseases are the result of poor diet.

My doctor even recently recommended that I start taking vitamins, which he had never mentioned before (everything was always a drug prescription).

MrMoody

I’m a strong believer in preventative medicine, the natural way. I believe that a lot of disease is the result of the foods we eat. I’ve heard that after fast food was introduced in parts of Asia, for example, obesity and heart disease rates skyrocketed—problems which had been rare in that part of the world before.

Processed foods contain preservatives which are harmful to health. I am not vegetarian, but I try to incorporate a lot of salads and whole foods into my diet.

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