We all want a healthy, vibrant community. But how do we get there? Community or population health is an approach that aims to improve the health of an entire population. Practicing prevention is the first step to helping manage the health of our community.
Primary prevention is what we can do to prevent a disease or condition from occurring in the first place. “A great example of primary prevention in Blount County is requiring immunizations for our school-aged children,” said Joe Newsome, Chief Nursing Officer of Blount Memorial Hospital. Requiring the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine helps prevent these contagious diseases from affecting a large population within our community. “The idea is not to have a mumps outbreak in Blount County, so that immunization requirement is a really good example of primary prevention,” Newsome added.
Other examples of primary prevention involve diet and exercise. Schools offer gym and recess to allow kids to move and get exercise. We also are fortunate to have the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway, with trails we can walk or bike for exercise. “Although it can be perceived as recreational, when we think about community health, having spaces available for physical activity is a great path to prevention,” Newsome said. We also have the Maryville Farmers Market to offer us local, fresh food to help us eat healthier. Another example would be a senior center offering bingo or dance classes that help increase social connections and mental fitness.
“Secondary prevention is identifying a disease at its earliest stage so we can immediately address it, and we do that right here in our hospital. We do mammograms and prostate screenings. Our family physicians offer immunizations; blood pressure and blood sugar checks; and we have specialties offering screenings for cancer or heart disease, among others. Secondary prevention is finding those small issues so they can be addressed when they’re still small. Successful secondary prevention reduces the impact of the disease once it’s found,” Newsome explained. Many organizations and churches in the area offer free health screenings and health fairs. “There also are programs here to help people get medications, and if you think about prevention, having access to medication is prevention,” Newsome added.
Tertiary prevention involves minimizing the effects or consequences of a disease once it develops. “An example of tertiary prevention for an adult with high blood pressure would be losing weight and taking your medication every day. If a patient already has high blood pressure, but we want to prevent a stroke, we’re going to do what we can to get that blood pressure down,” Newsome said. Things like taking the medications prescribed, losing weight, and reducing blood pressure or cholesterol may not cure a condition, but may help manage the symptoms of a disease and prevent further problems.
So, what can we do as a community? Fortunately, our community already offers a lot of options, including free health screenings; flu shot clinics; local organizations providing education and health information; senior centers with a lineup of physical and mental activities available; walking/biking trails; outdoor concerts, and activities to encourage socialization and mental health. Taking advantage of these things and creating more offer Blount County a path toward a healthier community.