All health care services can be broken down into two major categories – preventive (or proactive) and reactive (or reactionary) care. Preventive health care stops conditions from occurring. Doctors give reactionary treatment in response to a visible symptom.
The medical industry has overwhelmingly skewed its research and product distribution efforts to reactive programs and medicines. However, there is evidence that preventive health treatments provide more benefits than any other type of treatment. Researchers around the world uphold the value of keeping people healthy rather than “curing disease.” Why aren’t there more of these kinds of health programs in the mainstream?
One reason is that most people do not understand the nature of this type of medicine. Many medical professionals and consumers function by the saying “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” They overlook the health plans that could thwart chronic disease and help people maintain a productive lifestyle.
The numbers say it all – Americans spend over $3 trillion in reactive health care treatments, yet lag behind the world in life expectancy. Americans also experience higher rates of diabetes and infant mortality. The rest of the world is also improving at a rate faster than the United States.
Preventive health has a lower cost by an exponential magnitude. In the simplest case, a few dollars invested in a balanced vitamin intake can prevent many diseases, from flu to a heart attack. Taking this philosophy up the scale, we find that governments that put money into in preventive health care experience many positive side effects.
For instance, the United States spends the highest amount of money in the world on its health (17.1% of GDP in 2015 and rising). The overwhelming majority of this relief is reactive. As mentioned before, the United States is one of the most unhealthy first world countries in the world. Many researchers place the United States firmly in first place. Other nations compared to the US in studies from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) fared much better with billions less spent.
Denmark, Switzerland, and France spend anywhere from one-half to one-third of healthcare monies that the US does. However, their citizens have better overall health. They have highly functional educational systems, social security programs for the elderly and they dole out less on their prison systems as well. It seems that keeping people healthy helps them to become smarter, more independent in old age, and less likely to lash out at society. Specialists argue that large health care companies in the United States do not take this research into account.
Preventive health can help more than physical conditions. It is also being used to deal with potentially challenging behaviors in students with learning disabilities. Case studies and research that medical professionals have access to today provide incredibly precise trend lines and hypotheses. Doctors have a great deal of data to pick through when diagnosing and treating patients. Medical professionals all agree that every patient case will have some unique quality. Health prevention case studies give these doctors trends to follow and learn from. In many instances, behavioral specialists can fix problems before they show themselves.
Emory researcher Zain Rahimi believes preventive health programs work outside of the US because of cultural differences. He seems to imply that more of this type of medicine in the US would cause very little to change. He also states that scientific institutions should not use proactive care that is not “clearly medical” to study other societal phenomena. It is outside of their expertise at that point.
Rahimi also argues that the United States will have a tough time ditching reactive health care. The United States has metrics that point specifically to “cases cured” rather than “cases avoided.” The measure of success depends on curing cases that have already progressed and require traditional treatment.
The debate between preventive and reactive health will continue, mostly because the conversation is not purely medical. It is political and economic as well. One can only hope that politics, economics, and medicine will one-day match and provide unhindered and objective medical expertise for those who need it most.