Don’t fight fires unless you have to
Why prevention is the future of healthcare
Over the centuries, doctors have become ever better at diagnosing and treating illnesses and diseases. But this is still fighting the fire after things have gone wrong. Just imagine what life would be like if all those healthcare dollars went on prevention rather than cure? Fire prevention has saved countless lives. So why not use the same approach for your health?
Money, money, money
The US healthcare system costs an estimated $4.3 trillion in 2021. That equates to well over $100k per person per year! Yet we linger right in the middle of the table for global cancer mortality with an average 85.7 deaths per 100,000 population. So, what is going on, and how can we do better? First, let’s look at why the US spends so much on healthcare and why these dollars don’t push us to the top of the table for things like cancer survival.
Modern medical miracles
Healthcare has come a very long way since the days when doctors sought to “balance the humors” with bloodletting and purging. Decades of expensive research means modern medicine can rely on advanced diagnostic technology and miracle drugs. The aim is to diagnose and treat diseases as early as possible, thus maximizing the chances of survival and cure. But this approach doesn’t come cheap. The average cost for an MRI scan is $1,325 but they can cost many times more. A CT scan could cost up to $20,000. A single course of Imbruvica (a common cancer drug) is over $30,000, or $1,000 per tablet.
Hitting the wall
For decades, the improvements in healthcare have seen a steady increase in life expectancy and a corresponding decline in mortality. But that has started to change in the last few years. Mortality rates are starting to climb and in 2020 we saw the first decline in life expectancy in 100 years. It feels like medicine is suffering from the law of diminishing returns. But there is another approach: Preventative Healthcare.
Prevention vs cure
Before the Great Chicago Fire, firefighting was purely about trying to get water on the fire as fast as possible. But then attention began to turn more to fire prevention. Laws were enacted requiring certain building standards. Firefighting developed into a profession. Then the NFPA was founded in 1896 and fire safety became a watchword for civilians. The upshot has been a pronounced decrease in the number of structure fires across the US. As a result, today’s firefighters spend far less of their time fighting fires and far more on other activities.
Another significant change has seen forensic science applied to identifying the cause of fires. This information then feeds back into improved fire prevention measures and fire safety standards.
Applying the preventative approach to healthcare
Preventative Healthcare involves trying to identify future health risks before they develop into actual illnesses. This isn’t a completely new idea. For ages, doctors have routinely prescribed aspirin to people they think are at risk of blood clots. And statins against cholesterol are one of the most widely prescribed drugs globally. But these are very blunt instruments in the preventative healthcare toolset. Here at Diagnose Early, we think preventative healthcare should be data driven. That means using detailed understanding of a person’s current health in order to accurately predict their future risks. In turn, that allows them to take immediate steps to prevent or reduce those risks.
In order to do this, we need three things. Firstly, we need to collect as much data as possible about each individual, including innovative data about the chemicals in their breath. Secondly, we need to track this data longitudinally over time and link it with their health records. Thirdly, we need to build advanced AI models that allow us to link current health and fitness data with future risks.