April 16, 2012

This is a guest post by Jennifer R. Tucker, MA, RN, President of the Minnesota Organization of Registered Nurses, on the nursing faculty at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, and a Member of the Congress of Nursing Practice and Economics at the American Nurses Association.

bargain-car-dealsSince the birth of modern nursing in healthcare we have paid more to treat illness than we do to prevent it.  This concept has bewildered those of us in the healthcare field and many in the public for decades, especially since solid research has been putting the numbers and dollar signs together that prevention saves $$$$.  So it should have been no surprise when I heard the following exchange while catching a bit of a rerun of Shark Tank recently.

The product being discussed was First Defense Nasal Screens,  which help to filter the air you breathe of a majority of the environmental toxins, allergens, and viruses we are exposed to every day.

Question from Shark: ”Why not just go license it to one of the big drug companies

Answer from Entrepreneur: ”I did that originally. I went to one of the biggest in the United States, and they told me our company was actually a competitor, and if they took the product they would shelf it. Because why would they prevent it for $1 when they could treat it for $14.” (Are these exact quotes?”  Yes they are.

Even though I normally would have passed right over the statement, this time it really hit me and I felt anger at the arrogance.   Why is profit the driving force over the pubic’s health? Usually, people defend the companies right to make money on their products and they would be partially right.   So let’s reframe the question this way, “Why are we, the public, not more in charge of these choices for ourselves?”  Remember that we have power of the purse. With more transparency, like this conversation, the public is becoming more savvy and asking the right questions.

As a nation, we have been conditioned to put more focus on treatment than prevention, but this viewpoint is changing.  With data in hand, those on the front lines of healthcare reform are shouting the prevention first message from the rooftops and are being heard.

Here are just a few examples of prevention funding in the Affordable Care Act:

  1. National Prevention Council: A board to help coordinate prevention efforts and strategies in the government to have the largest impact.
  2. Public Health Training Centers: Funding to help increase those trained in public health and expand the services offered in public health.
  3. Putting Prevention to Work Fund:  Gives communities support to expand programs aimed at prevention activities.

Over $250 million was allocated for the above programs and many others to work towards increasing prevention in this country

These federally funded prevention models and provisions support prevention for the public’s health.  It’s up to those of us in health care to get the message out to the public in order to shift the long-standing culture of treatment as health care to prevention and promotion of health. We can start small, within our own circles and communities.  The top of the mountain does not have to be the goal of each individual, but the collective contribution of everyone will get us to the top of the mountain.    The top of the mountain will get us to a place where the drug companies response would have been, “Great, now we can prevent diseases for $1 that it would have cost $14 to treat!”