Preventative medicine is geared toward preventing existing diseases in people instead of searching for the overall cure. The methods used to prevent illness are classified into three categories: primary prevention, secondary prevention and tertiary prevention. Each category of preventive medicine attempts to stop the disease from affecting a person or population, detecting the disease quickly to avoid progression or symptoms, or tries to limit the impact of a disease that is already diagnosed and established in the patient with treatment.
Primary disease prevention is usually aimed at the population as a whole and is considered the most cost-effective preventative health care available, according to Fitzgerald Health Education Associates.
Immunizations are probably the best example of primary prevention, while health education such as promoting the use of condoms to prevent HIV, are also large parts of primary prevention efforts. Pasteurization of milk to avoid the possible illnesses from bacterial infection is considered primary preventative medicine. The goal of primary disease prevention is to completely avoid the suffering, cost and burden of disease by intervening before the onset of any illness occurs, according to the Encyclopedia of Public Health.
Secondary disease prevention is intended for those who have risk factors for a disease but do not yet have a diagnosis or symptoms. The goal is to identify, and treat if necessary, those people and catch the disease as early as possible to possibly avoid advanced disease and symptoms.
Screening tests are an excellent example of secondary prevention. By diagnosing diseases quickly, especially in cases of some cancers and heart disease, the progression of the disease can often be altered in favor of the patient to minimize its effects.
When primary prevention has failed and secondary prevention has done all it can do to improve the patient’s situation, tertiary prevention becomes the means to fight the disease.
Tertiary prevention is everything else required to care for the patient in fighting the disease, according to Fitzgerald Health Education Associates. Attempts are made to minimize the negative impact of the sickness, restore function and prevent complications.
Examples of tertiary prevention include the follow-up and monitoring of all prescribed medications to make sure the patient is taking them, therapy to help restore function in debilitating diseases and any medical procedure meant to treat or cure the disease itself.