Preventive health care: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Sept. 8, 2021 / By Karla VonEschen, MS, CPC, CPMA

Have you ever heard someone say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” It was Benjamin Franklin who coined this phrase in 1736 to remind the citizens of Philadelphia to be mindful of fire awareness and prevention. In other words, it’s easier to prevent something from happening in the first place than to repair the damage after the fact. This phrase applies to many aspects of life, including health care. Treating chronic conditions that are preventable such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain forms of cancer, is a key driver of the current high cost of health care. 

Preventive health care covers a broad range of services such as dental cleanings, comprehensive eye exams, screening mammograms and yearly routine physicals. Getting regular preventive care screenings reduces the risk for disease, disability and death. Here are a few of the leading causes of death according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from 2019:

  • Heart disease: 659,041
  • Cancer: 599,601
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 150,005
  • Diabetes: 87,647
  • Influenza and pneumonia: 49,783

Despite the importance of early detection of these illnesses or factors that may contribute to them, millions of Americans do not seek preventive care on a regular basis. In 2015, results were published from a survey performed by the Preventive Services Self-Administered Questionnaire (PSAQ) of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). This survey concluded that only 8 percent of adults in the United States had received all the recommended preventive care for their age group. This number is astounding considering preventive care could help identify many of the chronic conditions that impact quality of life and are attributed to early death.   

So, why do so few of us take advantage of preventive care? There are several reasons, including a lack of a primary care physician relationship, lack of access to primary care, no health insurance and other social determinants of health which were further impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, patients are often unaware of what preventive services are recommended for them or don’t make getting care a priority. 

As we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, providers should be looking for creative ways to redefine population health and preventive care. Electronic health records (EHRs) provide an opportunity to leverage data identifying certain patient populations at risk and creating a tailored plan to meet their needs. Family Health Centers (FHC) at NYU Langone, a federally qualified health center, used its EHR system to develop a population health management alert identifying gaps for chronic disease treatment and prevention. The tool was used to standardize preventive care for patients regardless of who the patient was seeing or the reason for the visit. By the end of 2020, FHC saw 74 percent of pediatric patients for well-visit appointments and surpassed the national average benchmark of 39 percent for scheduled vaccinations. The center also exceeded benchmarks for reducing the rates of uncontrolled diabetes (below 32 percent) and increasing the rates of cervical cancer screenings (greater than 57 percent).

Health care workers understand the importance of preventive care, the trick is getting this message to your patients or those in your community effectively. This is not a one size fits all task, but I am confident the health care industry can make changes and come up with creative ways to treat the public. When it comes to preventing illness and improving quality of life, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure!

Karla Voneschen is a coding analyst at 3M Health Information Systems.

Turn your data into clinically relevant and impactful information that you can apply for financial and clinical improvement. 


CDC Leading Causes of Death in the US

HHS Office of Disease Promotion and Health Promotion

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Family Health Centers at NYU Langone Population Health Management