Prevention Saves Lives as Well as Money, New Research Confirms

Donya Currie

Disclosures

Nations Health. 2010;40(9) 

Abstract and Introduction

Introduction

Preventive health services can save lives and also a significant amount of money, finds a recent study from the National Commission on Prevention Priorities.

Seeking to answer the question of when preventive medicine is a good investment, the study found preventive services such as daily aspirin use, tobacco cessation support and alcohol abuse screening can potentially save 2 million lives and nearly $4 billion annually.

"Fundamentally, we like to say prevention is better than treatment, and this article, I think, demonstrates that there is a value proposition around that notion," APHA member Eduardo Sanchez, MD, MPH, chair of the National Commission on Prevention Priorities, told The Nation's Health. "I think another important thing that we try to say over and over: not all prevention is equal. So this article helps identify those most impactful services."

According to the analysis of the estimated costs of adopting a package of 20 proven preventive services against the cost savings that could be generated, the impact of prevention can be profound. If 90 percent of the population had access to tobacco cessation services, alcohol abuse screening, daily aspirin intake — if at risk for certain health conditions — and colorectal cancer screening, each of those four interventions alone would result in more than 100,000 years of life saved, the study found.

"Put differently, more than 2 million people would have been alive during 2006 — or 780 people in a city of 100,000 — if preventive care had been widely delivered in prior years, all without an increase in net cost," wrote the study authors.

Among the services studied by the researchers were adult influenza immunizations, discussion of folic acid use, smoking cessation advice and assistance, and screenings for breast cancer, cervical cancer, chlamydia, cholesterol, hearing and vision.

Sanchez said it is a reachable goal to expect 90 percent of people to have access to appropriate preventive services.

"We're talking about a huge number of lives," Sanchez said. "There's a responsibility to the clinical care system, the public health system and the individual to get to where we can reach 90 percent, but the rewards are huge."

One goal of the new national health reform law passed earlier this year is to make preventive care accessible to more Americans at little or no cost.

"But cost reductions alone won't get us there," said Robert J. Gould, PhD, president and CEO of Partnership for Prevention, which convenes the National Commission on Prevention Priorities. "We now need health purchasers, insurers and providers to make every effort to improve their delivery and educate the public about these lifesaving preventive services."

Sanchez pointed out that the analysis did not take into account the "non-clinical costs" associated with preventive care.

"What we're beginning to appreciate more and more and more is that with an employee or a person whose health status is less than optimal, we too often just measure the cost of that poor health in terms of the dollars we spend on medical care," Sanchez said.

Other considerations warranting further study include the costs of an employee not showing up for work or a parent not being fully engaged with a child because of ill health. In other words, the bottom line when it comes to the value of prevention should be lives and money saved and quality of life, he said.

"This article speaks only to medical care costs," Sanchez said. "We all have to learn to be more comfortable and insist on a more complete description of the value of that preventive service."

The full study appeared in the September issue of Health Affairs. It is available at www.healthaffairs.org and www.prevent.org. For more news from The Nation's Health, visit www.thenationshealth.org.

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