How can I make the case for prevention?

Benefits of prevention for physical health

Preventing chronic disease helps people to lead their best possible life, and society to avoid strain on the health budget and communities.

Evidence shows that even small changes in the prevalence of risk factors for chronic disease are likely to lead to a significant reduction in the health burden of chronic for individuals and the healthcare system.

Strategies that support people to lead healthier lives are proven to have long-lasting physical health benefits.

Reducing tobacco and alcohol consumption, improving diet, increasing physical activity levels and reducing sitting can lead to:

  • Less chance of dying young
  • Less chance of developing a chronic disease
  • Less chance suffering complications of disease
  • Better quality of life
  • Less pain
  • Less chance of going to hospital or taking regular medications
  • Reduced body weight or BMI
  • Reduced waist circumference
  • Reduced cholesterol levels and blood pressure
  • Less chance of being injured

The benefits of prevention for mental health

Prevention can produce mental wellbeing benefits. Evidence shows that supporting people to do more physical activity significantly reduces the risk of depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, PTSD and psychosis. Encouraging healthier diets would lower the number of people at risk of depression.

The benefits of prevention for the health system

The health system is currently oriented towards treatment. Clinicians treat problems as they arise, rather than looking at ways of stopping the need for treatment. However, the increase in chronic diseases and our ageing population are threatening the long-term sustainability of our acute services. It makes more sense to prevent ill health before it occurs.

People with chronic diseases and obesity usually access healthcare services more often, and stay in hospital later when they are admitted. They are also likely to use more medications for longer periods of time.

Australia spends an estimated $27 billion in direct healthcare costs on chronic diseases – over a third (36%) of the national health budget.

If action were taking to prevent chronic disease, it is estimated there would be:

  • 60,000 hospitalisations avoided nationally each year, saving $2.3 billion[1]
  • 5.5 million fewer Medicare services each year, savings of $273 million
  • 5.3 million fewer Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme scripts filled each year, saving $184.5 million

 

[1] Brown L, Thurecht L and Nepal B 2012. The cost of inaction on the social determinants of health. National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, University of Canberra.

The benefits of prevention for the economy

The economic benefits of prevention range from macroeconomic benefits to societal benefits and healthcare system cost savings.

Preventive health not only lowers healthcare costs, it reduces the costs associated with premature death rate and years spent in ill health. Is ensures fiscal sustainability for Australia.

Prevention benefits employers and businesses as employees spend less time off work, and reduced capacity at work due to ill health (presenteeism).

In 2017, the Productivity Commission conservatively estimated that Australia’s GDP could be increased by $4 billion per year if the health of people in fair or poor health was improved.

Most preventive health strategies are cost-effective; their benefits far outweigh the cost of their implementation. Every dollar spent on treating chronic disease that is preventable is money that could be spent elsewhere in the health sector; every year of productive life lost to premature death or disability could have been directed to a more productive and prosperous society.

The co-benefits of prevention

Most preventive health strategies have numerous benefits beyond health. These are called the co-benefits of prevention, and include reduced costs, reduced inequality, better places to live and benefits to the environment.

The causes of chronic disease are often rooted in socio-ecological factors such as level of wealth, education, health literacy and remoteness. Addressing these social determinants of health has flow-on benefits for many other aspects of life.

Preventive health measures can also benefit other sectors, such as education, transport and the environment. In the same way, some of the best strategies to prevent chronic disease lie outside the health sector.