Posted By Abhi Muthiyan On July 31, 2014

Public health and prevention: From behind the scenes to center stage

In a recent conversation we had with a public health expert, she remarked that the public generally recognizes the value that first responders—police, firefighters and EMTs—offer the community. By comparison, the expert suggested, public health providers receive far less acclaim. Why? Because public health is so heavily focused on prevention, which tends to be regarded as a “behind the scenes” sort of role. “If public health does its job right,” our expert said, “No one ever really hears about us.”

So why is public health so focused on an initiative that isn’t currently center stage?

Today, seven in 10 deaths in the United States are linked to preventable diseases, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans spend $2.7 trillion a year on medical care. Seventy-five percent of these healthcare dollars are spent treating diseases like those listed above. But only three percent of our healthcare dollars go toward their actual prevention.

This intense discrepancy and growing need led to the establishment of the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF), which was created as part of the Affordable Care Act. The PPHF is the nation’s first mandatory funding stream dedicated to improving national public health. By law, it is dedicated “to provide for expanded and sustained national investment in prevention and public health programs to improve health and help restrain the rate of growth in private and public health care costs.”

Research done in the area of prevention suggests that for every 10 percent increase in funding for community-based public health programs, the result would be a reduction in deaths due to preventable causes by roughly as much as one to seven percent. A $2.9 billion investment in community-based disease prevention programs is estimated to save $16.5 billion annually within just five years (to clarify, these projections are made in 2004 dollars).

And while the PPHF has undergone some budget cuts since its launch, it funds have largely been devoted to:

• Community prevention: focusing on preventative health programs like tobacco cessation, obesity prevention and disease-specific efforts
• Clinical prevention: expanding awareness of clinical preventative services and benefits
• Public health infrastructure and training: enhancing public health infrastructure at the state/local level, increasing training for the healthcare workforce and expanding officials’ ability to prevent and respond to disease outbreaks
• Research and tracking: increasing and expanding data collection on public health services nationwide

The intention of this and other related initiatives is to recognize that preventing illness and disease is critical to delivering better quality care and curbing rapidly increasing healthcare costs, which is particularly important for a country with astronomical healthcare spending like the United States.

The data we’ve shared in this blog is a compelling reminder that when it comes to something like healthcare, there is no such thing as “behind the scenes” work. Everyone involved in the production is equally important.

For more information on the statistics given above or on the Prevention and Public Health Fund in general, please visit