The Advantages Of Health Promotion: An Ounce Of Illness Prevention Or Ten Pounds Of Cure

2009-10-27 | |
Last updated: 2009-10-27

As the time nears when the US government will unveil its long anticipated bill for reforming the US health care system, we are all reminded just how important and how costly health care can be at both a personal and national level. With estimates for the cost of health care reform pegged at around $1 trillion dollars over ten years, a lot of money is being thrown at the problem of making health care better and hopefully more affordable to individuals and the country at large.

Given the presently uncontrolled growth of costs in the US health care system, serious reform is needed to ensure individual Americans can continue to afford care. Changes are also required to ensure that those with existing or newly discovered medical conditions are not left wallowing in debt as a result of having to personally cover medical bills caused when insurers deny coverage or the insurance runs out.

Though these efforts have the potential to pay off if the US can eventually attain the relative efficiencies of other first world countries, one aspect of health care reform that is often poorly addressed is prevention. Though the reform bill has elements to address the need for disease prevention, prevention is one of the most untapped ways of limiting health care costs.

Is Illness Prevention Being Successfully Applied Anywhere?

In failing to take advantage of this opportunity, the US is not alone. Countries like the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few, all face avoidable costs within their health systems that could be addressed with prevention. Smoking, obesity, excess alcohol consumption, and lack of physical fitness all contribute to unnecessary health costs. Also adding to the preventable costs is the lack of regular checkups to allow earlier detection of conditions. Many conditions are much easier to treat when detected early, but they cannot be found if we do not visit the doctor to have tests run.

In many countries, health promotion campaigns encourage people to exercise, to stop smoking, to control alcohol intake and to lose weight, but generally, little incentive is provided for individuals to do so. If countries are serious in reducing their health care spending from approximately 10% of their GDP (the US spends 16-17%), a much stronger incentive program is required.

While it is all well and good to rely on the virtues of people to do the right thing, life creeps in and disturbs the most well-intentioned New Year’s resolution or advice from our doctors. To provide that added “inspiration”, our collective lack of sustained will must be addressed through monetary incentive. Psychology researchers at London’s Kings College have determined that such incentives can work at some level so it is worth looking at this approach as an alternative to simply using prevention techniques that tell us about the benefits that we might receive.

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Category: General Health, Healthcare Politics

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