Most Americans Don’t Get Preventative Healthcare

American Journal of Preventive Medicine, online May 16, 2006, updated May 22, 2006 (Reuters Health).

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Many Americans are failing to get the preventive medical care that could help them live longer, healthier lives, according to a new study.

Preventive measures, like a daily dose of aspirin, colon cancer screening and smoking-cessation therapy, are all effective ways to save lives and healthcare dollars, but fewer than half of Americans who need these services are getting them, the study found.

The findings, published online by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, are based on an analysis of more than 8,000 previously published studies. Researchers with the non-profit groups Partnership for Prevention and HealthPartners Research Foundation ranked 25 recommended preventive services according to their potential health benefits and medical-cost savings.

Besides aspirin therapy, colon cancer screening and smoking cessation, the most effective preventive services include childhood vaccinations, blood pressure screening, Chlamydia screening for young women, and immunizing adults against the flu and pneumonia, the researchers conclude.

Yet, with the exception of childhood vaccinations, the majority of Americans may be missing out on at least one of these services, according to the report.

“If these services were more consistently offered to the American people, fewer people would die and fewer people would suffer from diseases that are preventable,” study co-author Ashley Coffield, an analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Prevention, said in a statement.

For example, low-dose aspirin therapy has been shown to be a cheap, effective way of lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. If doctors discussed aspirin therapy with all at-risk patients, the study authors conclude, it could save 80,000 lives annually.

Similar benefits could be seen if doctors asked all patients about their smoking habits, then offered smokers brief counseling and recommendations for cessation therapies, according to the researchers.

Not only would this spare many people from lung cancer, heart disease and other ills, but it could also save $3 billion in medical costs each year, Coffield and her colleagues estimate.

According to the researchers, their rankings of preventive services do not negate the importance of lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise. But, they say, the study does highlight those medical practices that create the greatest health benefits for the lowest cost.

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