It’s no longer enough to merely treat diseases once they have reached an advanced stage. More and more, healthcare systems must focus on preventing diseases from occurring in the first place. When they do occur, early treatment is the most effective way of reducing the impact of long-term conditions and allows patients to maintain a higher quality of life longer.
Despite the positive impacts of prevention and early intervention, only 3% of total EU healthcare spending is currently allocated to prevention and public health programmes, and in some countries the rate is as low as 1%. Yet, investment in efforts aimed at minimising disability and restoring health can lead to tangible savings.
One example is the Early Intervention Clinic project carried out by the Hospital Clínico San Carlos in Spain. Focused on early intervention and treatment of chronic musculo-skeletal diseases (MSDs), the clinic’s results were striking: every €1 spent on early intervention generated a total savings of €11 in health and social welfare spending. Patients who received early treatment at the clinic were able to return to work much earlier than other patients who followed the traditional care pathway, resulting in significant savings in disability and social welfare payments. Sick leave days were 40% lower for patients of the clinics and permanent disability was reduced by 50%. The Early Intervention clinics have been scaled up across Spain and will soon launch elsewhere in Europe.
The success of early intervention presents an interesting new way of thinking about healthcare: a shift from assessing systems on the basis of “diseases treated” to “diseases avoided”.
EU Whitepaper, Action 1, p.4
Spotlight on Prevention: When, Who and How?
Unhealthy lifestyles and lack of physical activity are key factors in the development of chronic diseases. Early prevention and diagnosis, better education, and above all collaboration among governments, patient organizations, and industry are crucial to prevent chronic diseases from arising.