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Access to Health Services

Access to Health Services Across the Life Stages

Access to health services is important at every age. Having both a PCP and medical insurance can prevent illness by improving access to a range of recommended preventive services across the lifespan, from childhood vaccinations to screening tests for cancer and chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Having a PCP and medical insurance also plays a vital role in finding health problems in their earliest, most treatable stages, and managing a person through the course of the disease. Lacking access to health services—even for just a short period—can lead to poor health outcomes over time.

For example:

Children and Adolescents

  • Routine checkups during infants’ first year can ensure that they are keeping pace with developmental milestones and staying healthy.
  • Regular doctor visits can monitor children and adolescents’ healthy growth and development.
  • Vaccinating children and adolescents on a recommended immunization schedule can protect them from serious diseases, including mumps, tetanus, and chicken pox.
  • Screening for overweight and obesity can reduce children and adolescents’ risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer later in life.

Adults

  • Monitoring and managing weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol can reduce adults' risk for developing heart disease and diabetes.
  • Routine screening can detect certain cancers, such as breast, colorectal, and skin cancers, at earlier, more treatable stages.
  • Screening for and treating sexually transmitted diseases can reduce the risk of serious and long-term health conditions, such as infertility.
  • Regular checkups among adults age 65 and older can screen for health conditions that develop with age, such as eye diseases and hearing loss.

Determinants of Access to Health Services

The ability to access health services is associated with a number of social, economic, and environmental factors. One of the primary factors is the high cost of medical insurance, which makes it unavailable to many people. A lack of medical services in some communities, coupled with a shortage of PCPs nationwide, also negatively affects people’s ability to access health services. These barriers are compounded by other determinants—such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, and origin of birth—that may affect a person’s ability to access health services. The systematic removal of these barriers is key to improving the health of all Americans.

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