Math Lessons From The Family Van : Shots - Health News As Congress looks to balance preventative health care costs with potential future savings, it might want to check out the efforts of the Little Van That Could in Boston.
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Math Lessons From The Family Van

The Family Van might teach us a thing or two about the price of preventive care. Courtesy of President and Fellows of Harvard College hide caption

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Courtesy of President and Fellows of Harvard College

What's an ounce of prevention worth? That's a timely question as Congress gets down to the serious business of overhauling the health care system.

Harvard has figured out the true value of preventive care. At least for a mobile clinic that roams the streets of Boston.

It costs around $566,000 a year to run The Family Van, as the clinic-on-wheels is called. Its staff has nearly 5,000 patient encounters annually. Harvard researchers figure that 80 percent of these patients would have gone to a hospital emergency room if the van hadn't been around.

A visit to the Van costs the program $117, but its free for patients. The emergency room costs more than $900 for a non-emergency visit. The prevention payoff is pretty clear here.

The researchers calculate that the Family Van saves $3.1 million a year in avoided emergency room visits.

But that's the least of it. The Van spots a lot of untreated high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, depression. And it gets about 70 percent of patients to stick with treatment. That translates, the researchers say, into 245 years of high-quality life saved among the Van's annual clientele.

Medical economists say each Quality-Adjusted-Life-Year, as the jargon calls it, is worth $70,000. Multiply that times 245 and you get...$17.8 million. Add on the $3.1 million in avoided emergency room bills and savings total more than $20 million.

The researchers estimate that every dollar of preventive care provded by The Family Van saves $36 -- a pretty good deal.

The research appears in a journal called BioMed Central.