Most of us in healthcare recognize “health promotion and disease prevention” as smoking cessation, getting an annual physical, vaccinations, a gamut of diagnostic tests, and taking medications as directed. However, disease prevention and health promotion are so much more than that.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It includes physical fitness, good nutrition, adequate rest, and temperance; the ability to enjoy life, adapt to change, and recover from adversity; self-actualization, developing good relationships with others, and much more.
Disease prevention consists of three layers. Primary prevention involves identification of risk factors for disease, with early prevention so there is never a diagnosis. Secondary prevention occurs after a disease is diagnosed, but before it affects one’s quality of life. Tertiary prevention occurs after disease has already affected one’s quality of life. In this case, the goal of care is to minimize and slow the progression of the disease.
Health and prevention are not new concepts. Health educators and wellness professionals have been around for many decades. What is new is that hospitals are including health and prevention into their approach to patient care. In the past, we gave a nod to primary and secondary prevention, because insurance companies did not pay for it. Recent changes in Medicare and private health insurance are, for the first time, providing some financial incentives to change the focus from drugs and surgery to healthy behaviors and avoidance of disease.
Respiratory therapists in hospitals are beginning to educate patients on what they need to know to manage their own health successfully. As patients take more responsibility for their own care, they will be less dependent on doctors, nurses, and therapists. It is a paradigm shift in our outlook on medical care, as we put the “health” back in healthcare.