As an emergency physician, I tend to work on the other side of preventive care services. I see what happens when women don’t know about safer sex and birth control, and end up with complications from sexually transmitted infections. I see what happens when women do not get routine screening for cervical cancer and struggle with life-threatening cancer. I see what happens with out-of-control hypertension and diabetes, and the heart attacks and strokes that are detected far too late.
These experiences have shown me that prevention is the best medicine. That’s one big reason why the Affordable Care Act provision requiring new insurance plans to cover women’s preventive care without any extra charges or co-pays is a real victory for women. These requirements, which go into effect Aug. 1, will be phased into existing insurance plans over time.
Because of this change, women will be able to obtain complete contraceptive care, screening for sexually transmitted infections, and screening and counseling for intimate partner violence. This builds upon earlier requirements that insurance companies cover – at no additional cost to women -- mammograms and screenings for cervical cancer. It’s clear to me that these mandates will significantly improve women’s health and lives and ultimately lead to a reduction in health care costs.
The Well-Woman Visit
One of the easiest ways to obtain preventive services is through a well-woman visit. These visits, which will soon be covered with no co-pay, give you the opportunity to ask key questions about birth control, sexually transmitted infections, and other reproductive issues, along with questions about diet and exercise and any health concerns you have. You can also discuss changes in your family’s medical history that are important for your health care provider to consider. For example, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, my doctor recommended that I get earlier screenings.
Along these same lines, your health care provider may have questions or issues to discuss with you. Smoking, drinking and recreational drug use can create and contribute to health problems, and often need to be discussed and addressed multiple times before change happens. Well-women visits also give your health care provider a chance to screen for potential high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, domestic violence, and more.
The well-woman visit is important for another reason: it gives you and your health care provider a chance to get to know each other. Most people go to their provider or to a clinic only when there’s a problem, but the best time to get to know your provider isn’t when you’re in distress from a painful or troublesome condition. Studies have shown that health care providers make more accurate diagnoses when they know their patients and can put the symptoms in the context of your life. A well-woman visit is a precious opportunity to build this trusted relationship.
As an emergency physician, I am excited about the new provisions taking effect Aug. 1, which include annual well-women visits for those who want them. I would much rather women regularly visit their health care providers than come to the E.R. later suffering from preventable problems. So please take this opportunity and make an appointment with your provider. The importance of investing in your health is too crucial to ignore.
Leana S. Wen, MD
Dr. Wen is an emergency physician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital and a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School. She is the author of a forthcoming book on patient advocacy, “When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests.” For more information, visit her blog When Doctors Don’t Listen or her website. You can also follow her on Twitter @DrLeanaWen.
(This post was originally posted here on Our Bodies, Ourselves as part of the Countdown to Coverage Campaign)