Most people don’t want to go to the doctor. Even more, most people of course don’t want to take medication regularly or have surgery.
Believe it or not, doctors are also interested in making sure you don’t have to come see them or get any treatment! The challenge is that if we never go to the doctor, then we won’t know if anything is starting to become a problem.
We doctors are worried most about diseases where people will not feel any symptoms until the disease is very bad. A few conditions that really concern us are high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, where these three contribute to at least four of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States.
I have heard people say that they don’t want to take a prescription blood pressure medication because they feel fine, but this is a problem because high blood pressure usually won’t cause any symptoms until something very bad is going to happen, like a heart attack or a stroke.
All of the conditions mentioned here are also more common in the Black community for many different reasons, so our risks overall are greater than in other communities.
This type of situation is where prevention can be the most helpful. There are four forms of prevention that we use to help people.
- Primary or first-degree prevention is to stop disease before it starts.
- Secondary or second-degree prevention is to catch disease before symptoms start so we can stop the disease from becoming a problem.
- Tertiary or third-degree prevention happens after a disease has been found, to manage the disease and cut down on how much it will impact someone.
- Most importantly, quaternary or fourth-degree prevention is where doctors don’t do things that are unnecessary or potentially harmful.
Let’s look at high blood pressure in terms of the different forms of prevention. The primary prevention is to ensure people have a good diet, enough exercise, are not carrying too much weight, and avoid certain activities like smoking, all of which will increase blood pressure over time.
The secondary prevention for blood pressure is screening people and catching it before people feel anything or before the high blood pressure causes damage to any organs.
People don’t want tertiary prevention, which would be when a medication would likely be prescribed to stop the blood pressure from getting worse.
The good news is that we are also focused on quaternary prevention—we don’t want to give you too much medication, and we don’t want to do unnecessary screening that may make you more worried or might have some risks of harm.
Prevention is best to save you from having to end up going to the doctor, taking medication, or ending up in the hospital. For this same reason, health insurance completely covers preventive care because it saves them the most money. That means you won’t have a co-pay when you see your doctor for an annual visit or for recommended screening, because that’s how much they want you to do it.
If you prevent disease or limit how much it affects your body, then that means you can keep doing the things you want to do, such as playing with your kids, taking care of your home, or going to work. So if you’re convinced now that prevention is best, then here’s how to do it.
First, get a regular doctor. If you don’t like the first doctor you meet, try others until you find one that can help you to meet your health goals. If you want to find a Black doctor, check the Minnesota Association of African American Physicians (MAAAP) website (maaap.org).
Be very clear that your goal is to not ever take medication, and they will tell you everything you can do to stay healthy. You can even look for doctors certified in the newer field of Lifestyle Medicine, which focuses on the six ways in which people can take care of their own health.
The six things you can control are: diet, exercise, sleep, mental/emotional health, having a good social network of friends and family, and limiting harmful substance use or abuse.
The point is that it is mostly impossible to avoid ever going to the doctor. The question you have to ask yourself is whether you would rather go when you are healthy or when you are sick.
Dr. Zeke McKinney grew up and lives in Minneapolis. He practices clinical occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) in St. Louis Park, MN, and he is one of few clinicians in Minnesota who evaluates work and community-related environmental toxicologic exposures. He is also a researcher for the HealthPartners Institute, including on a COVID-19 vaccine trial, and in helping to set up a barbershop vaccine clinic in North Minneapolis. He focuses on health equity and environmental justice for all communities.