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Posts Tagged ‘prevention’

And it looks like we are losing the battle. According to “Healthcare expenditure statistics” from Eurostat, “[The] highest share [of total healthcare expenditure] of current healthcare expenditure [related to preventive care] in 2014 was recorded in Italy and the United Kingdom (both 4.1 %), while at the other end of the range, shares of less than 1.0 % were recorded in Romania (0.8 %) and Cyprus (0.6 %).” At the other end “curative care and rehabilitative care services incurred more than 50.0 % of current healthcare expenditure in the vast majority of EU Member States”

It may be that this is the right balance, but allow me to doubt it. And my doubts grow as I focus on the demographic change taking place in Europe. The baby-boomers are getting older and we are not doing anything about it, despite the fact that it is probably a generation ready to embrace a healthier and more active life than previous older generations.

I have been wondering, since I started working for the healthcare and social sectors, why it is that prevention does not get the attention of our policy makers.

Many explanations come to mind. Of course, simply saying “they are stupid” is the easy one but I refuse to fall for it. I strongly feel that anybody who has attained a position of responsibility may have many faults, but being stupid cannot be one of them; they would never have reached that position of responsibility.

The urgency of solving the immediate problem may be one of the reasons; after all, if somebody has an acute illness something urgent has to be done. It is a plausible explanation but, if that were the case, policy makers would never plan for the future building new roads or housing developments since they would be too busy repairing the existing road network or the old houses in inner cities.

I am afraid that highways are built because they make the news. I am afraid that most of the things that our policy makers do are geared towards a 30 second appearance in prime time national TV news. If that assumption is right, then it is clear that the opening of a new hospital (curative and rehabilitative care) is a better news item than the establishment of a prevention scheme that does not require any new buildings, or any new expensive and photogenic equipment. It requires only brains and hands, probably the least photogenic tools of the healthcare process and, probably too, the most ignored by policy makers.

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Why is it so difficult to convince older people to adopt gadgets and new behavioural patterns that are meant to make their lives healthier and richer? A person who has not ever read will find it difficult to enjoy reading when turning 65. Behaviour is one of the most difficult things to change; ask any smoker or drinker. And it gets more difficult as we age. Habits form our core identity. As we age we tend to rely more and more on our way of doing things and tend to confront any change with the utmost suspicion.

This behavioural inertia is also ingrained in society. Almost every socio-health care system is based on a pattern of attending social and health problems. Care systems are traditionally designed to repair our ailments. If you have a problem we will take care of you. Don´t bother us if you just feel that probably you will have a problem in the near future; we don’t have time for it!

The combination of both behavioural patterns, personal and social, results in a rejection to adopting anything that means to change our old ways. Change then comes forcefully, meaning we have to change because there is no other way. Any change is, then, a public proclamation of some kind of unavoidable evolution in our system. If I am using a walking stick, it means that I am now frail. I am telling everybody that now I am frail, everybody assumes I am going downhill. Outcome: I will not use that dammed walking stick even if I fall!

If walking sticks became fashionable, as they were in the last century, my ailments would be stealthy; I would be using the walking stick just like everybody else, only I really need it.

If care systems insist on putting all their efforts into solving problems – tackling mainly acute problems-, there is no chance that we can incorporate new habits into the population. I know that for years there has been talk about the need to introduce prevention into our care systems. I know also that very little has been done. If you are in doubt, compare the amount that any system is investing in obesity induced illnesses and the amount spent on preventing obesity. I recognize also that the opening of a new acute hospital makes headlines with a nice picture of the Minister of Health, while a program for changing eating habits in children in an out of the way school does not make even a tiny article on page 45 of the local newspaper. Nevertheless, we all know that prevention is the only way to face a brighter future.

Prevention means that, as soon as possible in the person’s life, the system will help to change habits in order to avoid future complications. With that in mind, we will be able to introduce say, healthy eating apps that will be assimilated into our everyday life. The person will rely on the app when feeling at loss for ideas for tomorrow’s lunch. The odd search will become a habit, and the app will start recording what food is chosen, and letting the person know when he/she is eating more meat than necessary.

Compare this process with today’s. Today, I would go to the doctor when I felt sick, he will spot that I am eating a very unhealthy diet and recommend a complete overhaul of my eating habits. He may recommend an app to help me keep track of what I eat. I will struggle to follow the diet and will not use the app. My mind is telling me that I have been eating a lot of meat ever since I was young and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I will keep it that way till the grave, even if it means the grave closes nearer.

I think that the only way to success is to be able to induce a behavioural change in our target population. We know that behavioural changes are easier the younger the person is. We should then aim at incorporating as soon as possible into daily life those elements that will contribute in the future to a longer and healthier life. Get your walking stick today; do not wait for when you really need it. Or in a more up-to-date fashion, start getting acquainted with apps and other ICT gadgets today, before you really need them and feel old and battered.

From the developer/entrepreneur point of view, your customers are the social-health care systems; convince them that only by prevention will they have spare resources to attend the ageing society; change their behavioural pattern from solving acute problems to preventing problems. I know it is a long and burdensome process but it is the only way that your products will make it to the market, to those who need them.

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Efficacy in the provision of care coupled with efficient use of scarce resources is the goal of any social and health care system. Or is it?

Governments feel hijacked by their constituencies. They feel the need to provide quick answers to problems that, in most cases, their constituencies are not even aware of. Politicians feel the need to do something, and that something has to be readily visible. If you were an average  politician, what would you prefer? A front page picture in the paper of the inauguration of a hospital, or a long interview in the middle pages explaining how you have bet on primary care? You can fill in the blank ________________.

And yet, we all use a lot more primary care services than those of an acute hospital, no matter if we are young or old. We rely for our well-being on proximity services: social and health primary care. Only on extreme occasions do we use an acute setting.

Furthermore, primary care is focused on prevention, as opposed to remedial actions provided by acute hospitals. To top it off, prevention is recognized as the basic pillar of efficacy in care and efficiency in the use of resources.

And then, why is it that prevention is the black swan of care? I can only think of one answer and it is not a pretty one: our politicians need quick fixes and they have neither the knowledge nor the willingness to confront complicated problems.

Can we do something about this? I would like to think that we can. The constituents, or in other words the professionals and users of the socio-health system, should make their voices heard loud and clear: we would like a system that helps us to prevent ailments, not a system that only takes care of us when it is too late.

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