Prevention: Rhetoric and reality

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


No single strategy is capable of preventing untimely deaths and disabilities. In the United States in particular, the contribution of medical care is limited by inadequate provision of services (particularly to the poor), inappropriate training of physicians, and unnecessary costs. Lack of knowledge about disease universally limits medicine's effectiveness. Among nonmedical strategies, campaigns for life-style change are most likely to succeed in those with the lightest burden of illness. Efforts to increase individual responsibility might well reduce health expenditures, but at the same time the disparity in health between rich and poor will increase. Restrictions on the use of harmful substances and on the manufacture of toxic or hazardous products, along with humanization of the work process itself, would reduce deaths from cancer, heart disease, and violence, however, resistance to these changes is, and will remain, great. The socioeconomic and environmental changes that are necessary to afford each citizen an equal opportunity for optimal health will be adopted slowly, if at all. Considering the limited acceptability of these nonmedical strategies, the prospects for prevention are less than what has been promised. Despite its imperfections, medical care can contribute to the prevention of early death and disability. Attempts to disparage it could delay the adoption of the changes needed to improve its effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-39
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Health Services
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1979

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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