Failing to prevent disease in patients costs lives

An excerpt from Stay Healthy At Every Age: What Your Doctor Wants You to Know.

When you were growing up, somebody probably told you that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Many of us have learned from experience how much better it is to prevent a bad thing from happening than to try to fix the consequences once it has happened. Most people can agree that prevention is the way to go. This concept applies to our health as much as it applies to other areas of our lives: it is far better to prevent disease than to treat it. And if disease is already present, it is better to catch it early than to treat its complications. In health, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

Yet the sad fact is that many people fail to take advantage of the available means of preventing disease. As a result, thousands of Americans die or become sick from preventable illnesses. According to the 2007 report by the Partnership for Prevention,

· 45,000 additional lives would be saved each year if we increased to 90 percent the portion of adults who take aspirin daily to prevent heart disease. Today, fewer than half of American adults take aspirin preventively.

· 42,000 additional lives would be saved each year if we increased to 90 percent the portion of smokers who are advised by a health professional to quit and are offered medication or other assistance. Today, only 28 percent of smokers receive such services.

· 14,000 additional lives would be saved each year if we increased to 90 percent the portion of adults age 50 and older who are up to date with any recommended screening for colorectal cancer. Today, fewer than 50 percent of adults are up to date with screening.

· 12,000 additional lives would be saved each year if we increased to 90 percent the portion of adults age 50 and older immunized against flu annually. Today, 37 percent of adults have had an annual flu vaccination.

· Nearly 4,000 additional lives would be saved each year if we increased to 90 percent the portion of women age 40 and older who have been screened for breast cancer in the past 2 years. Today, 67 percent of women have been screened in the past 2 years.

More than 100,000 lives would be saved annually in the United States just by increasing the use of these five preventive measures. And these statistics do not include the countless people who would benefit from lower rates of disease, lower costs of health care, and higher quality of life. And just think what would happen if we included all the dozens of other recommended preventive services!

The causes for these failures are many — outdated medical practices, inconsistent preventive health guidelines, poor health insurance coverage, low public awareness, and frankly a broken system that is designed more for “sick”-care than for “health”-care. Regardless of the cause, the patient stands to suffer most.

It is the person with the preventable disease, not the doctors or the healthcare system, who suffers.

Shantanu Nundy is an internal medicine physician and author of Stay Healthy At Every Age: What Your Doctor Wants You to Know.

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  • csmith

    Are you seriously recommending that all adults take aspirin? The data doesn’t support you on that one.