Preventive care falls short: Only 8% of U.S. adults receive all appropriate services

Doctor examining patient
Practices and health systems can use a measure and survey to see where gaps exist in preventive care. (Getty/kazoka30)

Health systems and physician practices can do a better job providing preventive services to patients to help maintain their health and save lives, according to a new study.

Only 8% of U.S. adults received all of the high-priority, appropriate preventive care recommended, researchers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found in a study published in Health Affairs.

While prior studies focused on specific preventions, such as colorectal cancer screenings or flu vaccinations, the researchers developed a first-of-its-kind composite measure that considered a diverse spectrum of preventive services and a survey, which was completed by over 2,000 adults.


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In 2015, only 8% of Americans 35 and older received all of the clinical services recommended for them and nearly 5% of adults did not receive any of the services, which included screenings, counseling, preventive medications and vaccinations. Men were more likely than women to have received none of the recommended preventive services. Among the other study findings:

  • The most commonly received preventive service was blood pressure screening, at close to 90%.
  • The least commonly received service was the zoster vaccination to prevent shingles, at less than 40%.
  • For the two measures of overuse of services, nearly 70% of women ages 75 and older appropriately did not receive cervical cancer screening, but only about half of the men that age appropriately did not receive a prostate-specific antigen test.
  • In general, for services used by both sexes, women were more likely to receive services than men. Differences were significant for blood pressure screening, cholesterol screening, obesity screening and counseling and depression screening.

The researchers said there may be different reasons why people do get what is recommended or do get what is not recommended.

The good news was the study showed that comprehensive preventive care is achievable, as more than 20% of adults reported receiving more than 75% of the services.

The researchers said health systems and practices can use the all-or-none composite measure and survey to improve their own performance. Using the measure, they can see where performance gaps exist and patients are not receiving preventive services. “They can drill down and target quality improvement efforts based on observed disparities in care and on which services are most commonly not being received,” they wrote.

Improving preventive care is an increasing priority for providers as part of the shift to value-based care.

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