A crucial fact about American medicine goes largely ignored, even by doctors. Dollar for dollar, more people will gain years of healthy lifespan from prevention than from drugs or surgery. We don’t tend to think that prevention costs money. Once you learn that cigarettes cause lung cancer, you can decide not to smoke. The choice is free if you were a non-smoker to begin with. If you get up off the couch and start a brisk walking program to help prevent heart disease, that choice also doesn’t cost a penny.
What isn’t free, however, is getting information out there. Poor and less educated Americans are known to have a higher prevalence of major lifestyle disorders like heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. The reverse is also true: better lifestyle choices are made by the affluent and well educated.
You can’t prevent what you don’t know about. That makes it essential that we keep funding the most dollar-wise education for physicians so that young residents can go on to spearhead prevention programs. America cannot continue to rely on a reactionary stance of simply treating health issues. It must refocus its efforts and investments in prevention. The surgery to treat a lung cancer patient is highly unlikely to succeed and will be very expensive. Informing a middle-school classroom about the risks of smoking potentially saves lives at a fraction of the cost.