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Preventive Medicine – Does This Field of Medicine Have The Greatest Impact On Society?

Preventive medicine involves a combination of medical practices which are designed to avoid disease and illness, with the aims of improving quality and quantity of life. This proactive approach to patient care ensures sickness is minimised to enable patients to have the best chance of recovery to optimum health.

Abstract:

Preventive medicine involves a combination of medical practices which are designed to avoid disease and illness, with the aims of improving quality and quantity of life. This proactive approach to patient care ensures sickness is minimised to enable patients to have the best chance of recovery to optimum health.

Introduction:

Throughout the years, medicine and healthcare have shown to be necessary for a society’s ability to function. Society’s functioning and stability suffer if there is a larger proportion of unhealthy people and, ill health hinders individuals’ productivity and prosperity in their roles in society. When illnesses and morbidities occur, societies rely upon trusted doctors and healthcare professionals to aid recovery – responsive actions taken to treat a sickness or disease. But what if there could be a medical field to prevent illness in the first instance?

Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, preventive medicine has emerged to be one of the most important fields, focussing on promoting, protecting and maintaining health. Most medical fields are directed towards certain ages, illnesses or body systems – however, preventive medicine is not subject to these boundaries and, is a ubiquitous and relevant field in society. The three main aspects behind preventative medicine include health awareness, immunisations, and screening alongside testing. 

Health Awareness in Preventive Medicine:

Non-communicable diseases, such as Type 2 Diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease, have accounted for 89% of all deaths in the UK. This emphasises the significance of increased health awareness and preventive medicine required in society.  The risk factors of chronic diseases now are well-known and well-established – a set of lifestyle choices responsible for most of the main chronic diseases, including tobacco use, imbalanced diets and irregular physical activity. Clinical preventive care aids patients to alter lifestyle choices to reduce the onset of chronic disease and decrease the impact of the disease on patients. Awareness programmes, including mental health awareness, and non-communicable diseases awareness, permit ‘medicine [to bridge] the gap between society and science’ and reach out to individuals struggling with health, for support and improvement. 

Vaccinations in Preventive Medicine:

Continued and widespread vaccination programmes enable immunisation to infectious diseases, preventing illness, hospitalisation and mortality. For example, COVID-19 vaccines, such as the Pfizer, and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, will help reduce the spread of the disease and are safer ways to provide protection, highlighting disease-control benefits of preventive medicine. Mortalities prevented also translate into long-term cost savings: between 2001-2020, immunisations since 2001 will have averted an estimated $350 billion in total global costs due to illness. This enables potential economic growth which can allow more investment in public services, particularly in healthcare, to further improve citizens’ quality of life.

Vaccination programmes greatly reduce the burden of infectious diseases, decreasing mortality and morbidity rates and enabling these resources and money to be used for other serious healthcare issues in countries.

Screening and Testing in Preventive Medicine:

Screening and testing benefit various fields in diagnosis and treatment. For example, developments of ultrasound, and other methods for prenatal diagnosis, enable obstetrician-gynaecologists to abort defective or unwanted pregnancies and create prenatal treatment plans. This increased birth rates globally and decreased maternal mortality ratios (MMR): previous studies show that MMR decreased by 38% between 2000 and 2017. These schemes also aid internal medicine physicians, who strive to discover diagnoses of complex medical issues in the care of chronic illness and comorbidities, by providing visual identification of damage in the body. Internists benefit from advanced testing schemes, which are effective for the emergence and evolution of new diseases. This enables the achievement of early, accurate diagnoses, improving patient outcomes. 

Future of Preventative Medicine:

Past medical research in preventive medicine has focussed predominantly on lengthening lifespan, however the resultant life extension, without reducing aging, has unsustainably increased the extent of aging alongside age-related diseases, plus social and medical costs. This suggests that the aim of preventive medicine should be re-focussed – preferably more towards ameliorating quality of life. 

Medical progress, particularly in the field of preventative medicine, will raise the questions of which aspect of healthcare should be invested in coming years and decades. Many may argue that a managed compression of morbidity should take place. This would entail switching the majority of medical research funding from the main causes of death/mortalities, such as cancer and heart disease, towards the main causes of morbidity, such as dementia, degenerative diseases and depression. This approach would preferably remain until the quality of life is sufficiently high to make it worth extending lifespan. 

This graph displays how, in Europe, life expectancy is continuing to increase more rapidly than healthy life expectancy (average number of years lived with good health and wellbeing), hence morbidity (average number of years lived with poor health and wellbeing) is slowly expanding.

If these approaches are successful, this would decrease the rate at which life expectancy is increasing and increase the rate at which healthy life expectancy is increasing, which will result in a compression of morbidity. This resultant compression of morbidity will benefit our health and the economy as social and medical costs will be reduced, and resources can eventually be switched back to expand life expectancy sustainably. 

Conclusion:

Preventative medicine can be perceived to have the greatest impact on society – It is a hub, linking other fields, to help see the outcome of the research in various fields come together. Technological advancements aid this field, influencing innovative solutions for disease prevention, diagnosis and clinical care, turning a tide on human disease – namely, to combat COVID-19.

Swetha Babu, Youth Medical Journal 2022

Bibliography:

World Health Organisation (2018) “Noncommunicable Diseases Country Profiles” https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/274512

Working Party of the Royal College of Physicians (2005). “Doctors in society. Medical professionalism in a changing world.”  Clinical medicine (London, England), 5(6 Suppl 1)

World Health Organisation (2017). “Estimated economic impact of vaccinations in 73 low- and middle-income countries, 2001-2020.” Bulletin of the World Health Organizationhttps://doi.org/10.2471/BLT.16.178475

Image 1 – https://www.afro.who.int/sites/default/files/2019-01/imnz.jpg

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2018, December 7). Obstetrics and gynaecology. Encyclopaedia Britannica.https://www.britannica.com/science/obstetrics

UNICEF Data (2020). “Trends in estimates of maternal mortality ratio (MMR), maternal deaths and lifetime risk of maternal death, 2000-2017.” https://data.unicef.org/topic/maternal-health/maternal-mortality/

Brown G. C. (2015). Living too long: the current focus of medical research on increasing the quantity, rather than the quality, of life is damaging our health and harming the economy. EMBO reports, 16(2), 137–141. https://doi.org/10.15252/embr.201439518

Image 2 – embr0016-0137-f4.jpg

By Swetha Babu

Swetha Babu is a student at Wycombe High School in Buckinghamshire, UK. She is an aspiring medic, studying Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics at A Level.

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