AN INVESTMENT RATHER THAN A COST: A NEW APPROACH
• Focusing on investing in prevention and early intervention: preventing disease is far more effective for improving patient well-being and provides better value than treatment
• Exploring new ways to improve patient outcomes while lowering costs such as measuring and tracking outcomes and rethinking how healthcare is supplied and paid for
The WHO estimates that up to 80% of cardiovascular disease and diabetes and 40% of cancers are preventable. If European healthcare systems could eliminate even 20% of those diseases, gains would be considerable in terms of quality of life for citizens, not to mention help drive down healthcare expenditures. Yet, European healthcare budgets don’t reflect the power of preventive measures. On average, European countries allocate only 3% of their healthcare budgets to prevention and public health campaigns and, in some countries it’s as low as 1%.
MEASURING THE BENEFITS OF PREVENTION
It’s not always easy for policymakers to get a sense of the long-term benefits of investing in prevention. That’s where new analytic tools come in. In Italy, a pilot programme to develop a microeconomic simulation model is helping to demonstrate the financial impact of targeted prevention programmes on chronic diseases linked to obesity.
HEALTH LITERACY BENEFITS PATIENTS AND SYSTEMS ALIKE
Low health literacy in populations costs healthcare systems. A review of health literacy studies demonstrated that low health literacy is responsible for adding 3 to 5% of total healthcare costs per year in extra spending. Numerous studies in Europe and the United States have also shown that people with low health literacy are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, are less likely to have well-managed chronic conditions and have higher rates of preventable hospitalisations for conditions such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.
One of the most effective ways to prevent diseases is by teaching people how to stay healthy. Educational programmes on nutrition, health and fitness can and should be an integral part of every citizen’s education from the moment they go to school. Health literacy rates are also closely linked to the education levels of populations. The higher the levels of literacy, numeracy and the more knowledge citizens have of science, health and the health system, the better the health literacy rates. And health literacy has proven benefits: the Calgary Charter on Health Literacy says, “Improving health literacy can contribute to more informed choices, reduced health risks, increased prevention and wellness, better navigation of the health system, improved patient safety, better patient care, fewer inequities in health, and improved quality of life.” Education in general and health education specifically must remain a top priority for everyone.
TARGETING LIFESTYLE FACTORS
Proper nutrition and avoidance of harmful products such as tobacco, combined with an active lifestyle, have long term impacts on health that can help to drive down rates of preventable chronic diseases. In 2009, tobacco alone was estimated to cost the European Union €25.3 billion, which corresponds to about 2.9% of total healthcare spending in the EU and 0.22% of its GDP. Reducing rates of obesity, smoking, or even the consumption of salt, can go a long way to curbing healthcare costs. Policymakers should consider preventive health literacy campaigns as smart investments towards reducing costs.
The costs of limited health literacy: a systematic review., Wieser S, Brügger U.
Making health literacy a priority in EU policy, 2013. European Patients Forum
A study on liability and the health costs of smoking DG SANCO (2008/C6/046), updated April 2012
World Health Organisation. Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment, 2005
OECD. Health at a Glance: Europe 2012. OECD Publishing. 2012
The Calgary Charter on Health Literacy: Rationale & Core Principles for the Development of Core Health Curricula, 2011
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.