The human body is more complex and advance than any machine mankind could invent and this particular machinery needs acute attention. New era's health care system has evolved; Taking more responsibility for understanding your care and communicating with your doctor can help extend your healthy years.

Preventive medicine is an area of health care in which all consumers can exercise more responsibility and control. Getting regular screening tests for common health problems is a simple and effective first step.

Screening tests can give you and your doctor the information needed to identify health risks and take preventive measures before they become more serious problems. Screening tests include self-checks, clinical exams, non-laboratory tests (such as imaging tests) and laboratory tests. The focus here is on laboratory screening tests for now.

Getting routine tests performed even though you have no symptoms can help detect problems early and help you benefit from easier and more effective treatment. It can sometimes even prevent disease. It's easy to take these tests for granted, but their power to keep you healthier longer should not be underestimated.

For example, if you are at-risk for type-2 diabetes, catching the disease in its early stages may help you prevent or manage the condition with diet and exercise alone. Without early detection by a routine screening test, you could miss the opportunity to prevent diabetes, which could result in serious complications and a need for more intensive diabetes management.

To get the maximum benefit from preventive medicine, you should approach wellness visits prepared to discuss your health outlook and family and medical history with your health care provider. The decision whether to have certain screening tests performed will depend on your own risk tolerance. Whether to take advantage of laboratory screening is ultimately your decision, but starting from a base of health knowledge will help you communicate with your care provider about what's best for you.

Screening tests play a large role in preventive medicine and are an important part of a physical exam. They have two major benefits:

  • Encouragement to make positive changes : Even if you are healthy, you can learn to guard your health more closely if a test reveals, for example, a borderline high cholesterol level. Test results can help you take steps to reduce your risk and the likelihood that you will develop a life-threatening disease or disabling condition.
  • Early detection : Even before symptoms are recognized or increased risks are identified, screening tests help detect disease in its early and most treatable stages.

The Screening section on this site summarizes, by age group, the recommendations of some of the leading authorities for conditions for which laboratory screening tests are available. There are other important conditions that you may be screened for but that don't involve laboratory testing. Please keep in mind that for many tests, no national consensus exists on their value as a mechanism for preventing disease and living a healthier life, so it is important to consult with your doctor to determine which tests are right for you.

To get the best medical care available today, consumers need to develop basic knowledge and skills related to their medical care. Doing so will help you oversee your preventive care and get the most from your screening tests.

Even more important than knowing which tests to have and when to have them is the knowledge of what are your major risks and how you can prevent the diseases you are at risk of developing.

Understanding your personal risks and managing your preventive care will seem much less daunting if you have developed good overall health literacy. Health literacy is your ability to obtain process and understand the basic information necessary to make health decisions. It involves a diverse set of skills, including understanding graphs, making basic calculations, and obtaining, evaluating and applying information.

Specifically, to take full advantage of your screening tests and obtain the best preventive care, you should :

  • Know your family health history and make sure your doctor knows it.
  • Know which immunizations you have had and make sure your doctor also knows.
  • Know which health problems you are at risk for and make sure you tell your doctor.
  • Increase your awareness of medical tests that are of value to you.
  • Talk to and work with your health care provider to maintain your health; this includes identifying lifestyle changes that will improve your health and encouraging your health care provider to discuss screening tests with you.
  • Review your health insurance plan and talk to your insurance provider; know what your health care plan does and does not cover.
  • Always be willing to ask your health care providers questions or suggest clarification if they say something you don't understand.
  • Remind yourself that it's your health and you owe it to yourself to fully comprehend your care.

You can still rely on your doctor to tell you what tests are most worthwhile for you, but you will get the best preventive care if you approach your visits from a base of knowledge about yourself and your health.

Once your health care provider has assessed your health status and reviewed your test results, it is time to listen to his or her counsel and recommendations. This is a very important part of the prevention process; you will probably need to take notes and may have follow-up questions. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification if you don't understand something. You can expect to be counseled about changes you can make regarding things you have control over.

Discussing your lifestyle, activities and behaviors that affect your health with your health care provider will help you prevent illness. Likely topics are injury prevention, nutrition and exercise, substance abuse (including alcohol, tobacco and drugs), and activities that place you at higher risk, including, for example, your occupation and sexual activities. Listen for what changes you can make and discuss areas that present difficulty. Even small changes can be the beginning of better health. Some of the areas in your control are: Smoking, Abuse of alcohol or other drugs in general and particularly while driving, Physical activity, Eating habits and diet, High risk sexual practices etc.

It is up to you to choose to have regular screening tests. While there is expert consensus about many areas of screening, there are some areas—like breast and prostate cancer screening - where expert opinions have differed, or changed, in recent years. In the case of some screening tests, you and your doctor will have to work together, considering your risks and personal preferences, to determine which are best for you.

Overall, the benefits of regular screening are compelling: when disease is detected early, your treatment is likely to be more effective and economical and your quality of life is usually better.

Your health care provider can help you understand what you are at risk for and what you can do about it, if you make time for routine screening tests as part of a regular a health examination.