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The Role of the Nurse in Preventative Health Care

Posted on September 23, 2013 by

Preventative health care has become an increasingly popular area of the health care sector. Using a variety of methods to educate populations and avoid illnesses, this type of health care works to improve the overall wellness of Americans. Preventative health care informs populations, promotes healthy lifestyles and provides early treatment for illnesses. In the industry, the emergence of health care reform and an increased number of individuals suffering from chronic conditions has led to an amplified role for nurses in disease prevention.

Preventative Health Care

Nurses in preventative health care are tasked with improving the health of patients through evidence-based recommendations while encouraging individuals to receive preventative services such as screenings, counseling and precautionary medications. Through public health education, nurses can inspire a larger group of people to engage in healthy lifestyles and ultimately live longer lives. Preventative health care nurses encourage:

  • Regular exercise: Nurses promote regular activity (preferably 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week) to combat heart conditions, high blood pressure and other diseases such as stroke, diabetes and arthritis.
  • Weight management: Exercise also encourages weight management. Preventative care includes maintaining and controlling weight with exercise and healthy eating habits to prevent diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and osteoarthritis.
  • Avoidance of smoking and drug abuse: Aside from the addiction threat associated with smoking and drug use, there is the risk of lung cancer, emphysema and other forms of cancer.
  • Moderated alcohol use: Education about the effects of alcohol consumption, as well as early screening for diseases such as liver disease, stroke or high blood pressure, can significantly increase the chances of illness prevention.
  • Control of existing diseases: Nurses involved with preventative health care work to identify existing conditions in the early stages. Modifying an individual’s behaviors can control or minimize the effects of a particular ailment.

Preventative care encompasses a wide range of techniques to identify, educate, prevent and treat diseases in populations. There are three types of prevention that nurses take part in on a regular basis depending on their position in health care facilities or organizations: primary, secondary and tertiary.

Primary Prevention

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) describes primary prevention as the measures taken to provide individuals with knowledge to prevent the onset of a targeted condition. In this type of prevention, nurses play the part of educators that offer information and counseling to communities and populations that encourage positive health behaviors. From providing immunizations to reinforcing the use of seat belts, programs are designed to avoid suffering and illness in patients, as well as avoid any type of cost supplementary to disease treatment. Primary prevention is typically the most economical method of health care.

Secondary Prevention

Secondary prevention, a form of early disease detection, identifies individuals with high risk factors or preclinical diseases through screenings and regular care to prevent the onset of disease. Once identified, nurses work with these patients to reduce and manage controllable risks, modifying the individuals’ lifestyle choices and using early detection methods to catch diseases in their beginning stages when treatment may be more effective. Regular screenings, conducted by a preventative health care nurse, are the most common method of secondary prevention and can dramatically diminish the development of certain illnesses.

Tertiary Prevention

The third tier of prevention, tertiary prevention, is slightly different. This method involves the treatment of existing diseases in patients. At this point of care, nurses are tasked with helping individuals execute a care plan and make any additional behavior modifications necessary to improve conditions. As the primary and secondary methods have been unsuccessful, this stage encompasses methods of minimizing negative effects and preventing future complications.

Examples of Disease Prevention

Traditionally, health care systems were focused on cures for diseases. Today’s system is more focused on effective prevention techniques. Approximately 1.7 million Americans die each year from chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obstructive pulmonary disease. Nurses and other health care professionals are constantly working to prevent such illnesses through a variety of approaches.

Heart Disease

As the leading cause of death in the United States, heart disease is the focus of many health care professionals. There are many prevention programs in place and most employ the following methods of educating the public on ways to prevent heart-related illnesses, including:

  • Encourage and conduct patients to engage in regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks to prevent or control high or dangerous levels.
  • Educate populations on the symptoms of heart disease and heart attacks.
  • Improve emergency response to increase survival rates.

Organizations like the American Heart Association have developed guidelines and best practice methods for the treatment and prevention of heart disease. These strategies, used by health care professionals, work to educate and prevent cardiovascular diseases and have the ability to lower health care costs and improve overall patient care.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

One of the most common lung diseases, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) causes difficulty breathing and progressively worsens over time. Similar to the three types of prevention, there are four components health care professionals use for COPD management:

  • Access and monitor
  • Reduce risk factors
  • Manage stable COPD
  • Manage potential relapse or worsening of disease

Health care professionals put an emphasis on primary prevention in cases of COPD, as it can be caused by exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollutants. After determining the susceptibility of an individual to COPD, nurses and professionals can determine the best route of treatment or prevention.

Related Benedictine Programs
As health care evolves, nurses continue to play a vital role in patient care and disease prevention. With a range of approaches to disease prevention, nurses have the ability to catch problems before they begin, educate patients on ways to minimize or eliminate risk factors, and ultimately implement change for the better. By pursuing an online MSN degree at Benedictine University, individuals acquire the latest knowledge and methods used by skilled nurses today.