Aug. 11—Only one-quarter of preventive services reviewed by a government group were determined to be cost-effective approaches to improving health outcomes, according to a research analysis released this week by a nonpartisan investigative agency.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined 75 preventive services at the request of Senate Democrats that head the chamber’s healthcare panels and found only 19 were cost effective.

“Given the lack of readily available detailed information on the value of preventive services, you asked for additional information on the services that may be potentially cost-effective or cost saving,” according to the GAO report. “In this report, we examined recent peer-reviewed literature to identify preventive services that were shown to be cost effective and the extent of potential cost savings identified.”

Among preventive services found to be cost effective was the well-known step of using aspirin to prevent heart attacks in middle-aged men with heart disease risk. However, the use of aspirin to prevent heart attacks was not a cost-effective approach for people with coronary heart disease, according to the GAO literature analysis. 

Lifestyle interventions found to be cost effective included smoking cessation treatments. However, physician cessation advice or booklets on smoking cessation were not more cost effective than providing no counseling at all for men ages 50 to 54. 

Screening Differences Identified

Screening types of preventive services that were found to be cost effective included one-time colonoscopy screenings for colon cancer among men ages 60 to 64. Not cost effective were cervical cancer screenings among women age 20 to 59 performed every three years instead of every five years.

Preventive-care vaccinations that were considered cost effective included yearly flu vaccines for children. Not cost effective was routine HPV vaccination compared with cervical cancer screening alone.

Other preventive medicine steps found to lack cost effectiveness included population-based physical activity promotion in primary healthcare or community settings, such as exercise therapy prescriptions.

Publication Date: Monday, August 11, 2014