Preventive vs. Diagnostic Care

Male nurse taking older man's vitals at a doctor office.

When you visit your primary care physician, you likely talk about how you’re feeling, any issues you’re having, and have a general checkup. You may have a test or two.

If you do, how do you know what is classified as preventive care and what is diagnostic care?

The goal of preventive care is to detect problems before symptoms develop. Diagnostic care’s goal is to diagnose or treat current symptoms. You typically receive preventive care during your physical, while diagnostic care happens if a screening detects abnormal results or you’re having symptoms of something.

Some procedures can be classified as either preventive or diagnostic depending on the situation, leading to them being billed differently. Typically, preventive care includes immunizations, lab tests, and screenings. Diagnostic care is more specific, usually targeted after symptoms occur or after abnormal test results. Examples include a colonoscopy after symptoms of rectal bleeding or a mammogram after detection of a breast lump.

Check your benefits guide to see how preventive and diagnostic services are covered under your plan.

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