Wednesday, August 08, 2007
An ounce of prevention could save lives
by Miriam Falco
Managing Editor, Medical News
I've prepared a lot CNN segments on preventing illness over the last seven years as a medical producer. But according to a new study, not enough of us are getting the message. Not even some doctors. Our health-care system is not necessarily geared toward prevention. But what if it were? (Watch Video)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention commissioned a report to determine which preventive measures would have the biggest impact in saving lives. The non-profit health policy group "Partnership for Prevention" (PFP) found that simply increasing the number of people who follow 5 existing prevention recommendations would save more than a 100,000 lives each year. That's more than the population of Green Bay, Wisconsin or Cambridge, Massachusetts.
So what exactly are these five recommendations?
** Right now less than half of Americans who should be taking aspirin daily to prevent heart disease do so. If that number went up to 90 percent, 45,000 additional lives would be saved --at a cost of pennies a day.
** Only about a quarter of all smokers are advised by health care professionals to quit smoking and given tools to do so. If that number were raised to 90 percent of smokers, then 42,000 additional lives would be saved each year.
** Less than half of Americans older than 50 get screened for colon cancer - get that number up to 90 percent and 14,000 additional lives could be saved.
** Each year the CDC says get your flu shot - but only 37 percent of adults older than 50 actually get one. Raising that stat up to 90 percent would save 12,000 more lives.
** Finally, only two-thirds of women older than 40 get screened for cancer every 2 years - if that number increased to 90 percent, almost 4,000 lives would be saved annually. (Full Report).
So why aren't more of us taking aspirin, quitting smoking or getting cancer screenings?
Maybe it's because many of us don't think about going to the doctor when we are healthy, but go only when we're sick. According to the PFP report, many doctors and nurses lack a system to track the patients who need preventive care. And when it comes to telling patients to quit smoking, some doctors aren't always comfortable doing so.
Another hurdle is the cost of preventive services. In many cases, high deductibles have to be met before preventive medicine is covered by insurance. Those who don't have insurance are even more likely not to go to the doctor if they aren't sick. They probably can't afford it. Something has to change. One of the study's authors, Ashley Coffield says it's important to remove financial restraints in order to increase demand for more preventive services.
But Coffield says lawmakers need to make prevention the cornerstone of America's health-care system. "Too many people are dying prematurely or living with disease that could have been prevented," Coffield says. "We could get more out of our health-care dollars if more preventive measures were taken. We can pay now or pay a lot more later."
Have you been screened for cancer? Can you afford to go to the doctor when you're not sick? What preventive measures do you take to stay healthy?
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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