Transforming health outcomes and quality of life through preventative care

Transforming health outcomes and quality of life through preventative care

Tackling systemic health issues at a population level, such as tobacco addiction, alcohol dependence, chronic stress and obesity – as well as widespread issues such as heart disease and other cardiovascular problems, hypertension and poor mental health – is neither quick nor easy.

Prevalence of these issues is high; they are among the leading causes of death. In the latest Office for National Statistics report into avoidable mortality rates in the UK, 22.8% of total deaths across age groups were considered avoidable. Avoidable deaths in this instance means deaths that are either preventable or treatable; essentially, any cause of death that could’ve been avoided through effective public health and primary prevention interventions.

If nearly a quarter of all deaths are preventable, what can healthcare services do to reduce the number of people struggling with, and succumbing to, avoidable health problems?

What is preventative care?

The NHS Long Term Plan aims to both treat people who need medical help and ‘prevent them from getting ill in the first place’. The latter is the foundation, focus and definition of preventative care.

Preventative healthcare – also referred to as routine care – supports the detection and prevention of serious diseases and medical issues before they develop into more major problems. It aims to keep people and populations healthy, where the focus of healthcare is prevention rather than cure.

It’s now a priority for governments worldwide. Ill health and disease prevention is critical to improving the health of entire populations, and helps to secure critical health and social care services that we all rely on. For the NHS and its healthcare professionals, this means working alongside government, Public Health England and local authorities to ensure a joined-up approach to population health policy and care delivery initiatives is adopted.

The Care Act 2014 legally enshrines the responsibility of local authorities to make sure that people living within their areas ‘receive services that prevent their care needs from becoming more serious or delay the impact of their needs’. Prevention healthcare needs are numerous; NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, lists a number of key areas of preventative medicine. These include, but are not limited to:

  • alcohol use and problem drinking

  • bowel screening

  • cervical cancer and HPV

  • disease prevention

  • immunisations

  • obesity

  • physical activity

  • smoking.

What are preventative health measures?

Preventative health measures are a combination of medical practices that are designed to avoid disease and illness to offer the best chances of recovery and optimum health.

There are various levels to preventative health: ·

  • Primary prevention focuses on taking action to reduce the incidence of disease and health problems within the population and intervening before poor health effects occur. For example, introducing universal measures that reduce lifestyle risks, such as controlling tobacco use and promoting healthy eating, or targeting high-risk groups, such as offering free flu vaccines and childhood vaccinations.

  • Secondary prevention focuses on the systematic detection of early-stage diseases before the onset of signs and symptoms. For example, mammograms for breast cancer screenings, colonoscopies for colorectal cancer screenings, prescribing statins to reduce cholesterol, and regular blood pressure monitoring.

  • Tertiary prevention focuses on the management of disease post-diagnosis to slow or stop its progression. It’s designed to help patients manage long-term, often-complex health problems, such as chronic diseases and permanent impairments, in order to improve function, quality of life and life expectancy. For example, clinical preventative services and measures such as rehabilitation, screening for complications, and chemotherapy.

While check-ups, health screenings, routine immunisations, and sensible use of antibiotics – to ensure they remain available, and effective, for future generations – are critical, preventative measures go far beyond primary care. Other measures include:

  • influencing policy and legislation

  • mobilising neighbourhoods and communities

  • fostering coalitions and networks

  • educating healthcare providers, primary care physicians, clinicians and other professionals

  • promoting community and population-based care management

  • increasing individual patient education and awareness

  • helping people to access support to help manage chronic conditions, such as Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

There are various determinants of health, including social and economic environment, physical environment, and individual characteristics and behaviours. Tackling environmental factors, for example, is a priority for CDC – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – in the US, who highlight the important role that healthy environments and workplaces play in advancing public health. All determinants must be taken into account if a holistic, comprehensive and effective approach to preventative medicine is to truly take root.

What are the benefits of preventative care?

Preventative services, quite literally, save lives. Detecting health-related problems as early as possible results in better overall chances of recovery.

As well as increasing lifespan and reducing mortality and morbidity, preventative care reinforces a healthier, more active population – in turn, increasing wellness and wellbeing. With less patients requiring medical intervention for serious and advanced health conditions, healthcare services will be better resourced. As a result, systems currently at breaking point will see reduced delay in, and demand for, treatment and care, and quality of care will increase for all patients.

While there are manifold benefits within the spheres of healthcare and public health, there are plenty of wider benefits that have the potential to drive positive change at a national level. For example, healthy people are more productive; investing in preventative care measures now will boost overall economic health down the line and is cost-effective in the long-term.

How can we improve preventative care?

There’s still a long way to go in terms of optimising preventative care. However, there are plenty of improvements, technological innovations and opportunities that can catalyse massive step-change towards better population health.

Systemic barriers to healthcare need to be overcome if preventative care is going to achieve its full impact and potential. For many communities, healthcare costs pose a huge barrier. In the UK, taxpayer money funds the NHS, providing free healthcare to all citizens. In the US, while Medicaid and Medicare allow swathes of the population to access healthcare, there are millions without health insurance for whom healthcare is virtually beyond reach. Ensuring that healthcare is affordable and accessible to all is key, as is the systematic review of processes and policies that prevent this from being a reality.

Among numerous others, examples of improvements include:

  • prioritising prevention programmes in areas with the highest rates of ill health

  • leveraging proactive analytics, electronic health records (EHRs) and innovative medical devices, sensors and trackers to allow healthcare providers to identify those in most need

  • creating personalised health plans that include a comprehensive health evaluation, with information such as risk factors, family history and biometrics, a holistic therapeutic plan, metric-tracking tools and a care coordination platform

  • further empowering taskforces to tackle specific issues, for example alcohol care teams (ACTs) in hospitals with the greatest need.

Most people only visit their GP when they’re sick. While this does make sense, especially against the backdrop of overburdened, underfunded public healthcare systems, motivating people to take a proactive approach to their own health is transformative. Encouraging positive lifestyle changes, such as weight management and exercise, particularly in groups where there are existing and co-morbid conditions, can have profoundly positive results.

Improve overall health outcomes and pave the way for long-term good health

If you’re interested in changing the health prospects of our population, and enhancing both individual and collective quality of life, choose Queen Margaret University’s online MSc Healthcare Management course.

Gain the specialist skills and expertise to enhance your current practice and progress into senior roles in the healthcare sector. Through flexible modules that fit around your lifestyle, you’ll develop in-depth knowledge across management and health and gain critical analysis, problem-solving and strategic planning expertise. Modules are wide-ranging, covering areas such as health promotion, health leadership, health systems and policy, community health, human resource management and project management.