A variety of preventive services make up the world of preventive treatment, but there’s one common factor that many preventive medicine specialists will turn to in promoting the practice of preventive care: It’s an effective tool for saving money within the health system. But how effective is preventive medicine at saving money and who is it that sees that savings? Moreover, is saving money a significant enough benefit to warrant the growing focus on preventive services?
To consider the potential savings behind preventive services, it’s important to consider the differences between measures that save money and those that are cost-effective. The two terms are often used interchangeably yet have distinct meanings both in general and in reference to preventive care.
By defining something as “cost-saving” or something that saves you money, the assumption is that it decreases costs. However, something that’s cost-effective doesn’t necessarily lessen the associated expenses. Instead, it offers sufficient benefits to justify the costs incurred. These benefits may not be financial but offer a significant enough gain that the financial burden is ultimately warranted.
So, when determining the cost-benefit analysis of a preventive measure, it’s important to consider both whether it will save money and if it’s cost-effective.
No two preventives are the same, and none offer the same level of savings or cost-effectiveness. In fact, the United States government has allocated a particular group to such disparities: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. This task force not only analyzes preventive services and publishes its recommendations but it goes beyond preventive medicine. In addition to preventive medication, screenings, counseling, and similar recommendations, this U.S. government agency also makes recommendations aimed at mitigating systemic racism and more.
So, as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force could tell you, different types of preventive care have different benefits, including whether they’re cost-effective or cost-saving. For instance, childhood immunization or vaccination is notorious for its ability to decrease costs. Counseling efforts may also be cost-saving, particularly when it comes to counseling adults on the use of low-dose aspirin. However, a vast majority of preventive care efforts are more cost-effective than they are beneficial due to savings.
So, preventive medicine can save money, but it’s more likely to be cost-effective than decrease medical expenses directly. But does this mean that a health care provider shouldn’t spend time promoting screenings, preventive medication, or similar measures?
On the contrary, clinical preventive services remain a top priority throughout the United States and beyond. Whether they’re targeting obesity, enhancing disease control and prevention, or reducing an individual’s risk factors for lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, or other medical conditions, preventive treatment has far more benefits than cost savings alone. The efforts of a preventive medicine specialist can increase patient lifespans, decrease long-term costs, prevent infection, and help patients to live more active lives. Health promotion and improvements in quality of life are, without question, valuable benefits of preventive care—with or without the addition of cost savings.