Harvard Researchers Calculate The Value Of Preventative Medicine00:25

This article is more than 12 years old.

Harvard Medical School researchers say they've come up with a way to calculate how much money the health care system saves for every dollar spent on preventative medicine.

You know the saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"? Harvard's Nancy Oriol wanted to put a dollar figure on just how much "cure" is delivered by the Family Van, a local mobile health clinic for the poor.

So she helped develop an algorithm that crunches national cost-savings data. And it calculated that each dollar spent on the van last year returned $36 in savings.

"Most people look at what we're doing and they say, 'Oh, what a cute little program. Isn't that nice?' " says Oriol, dean of students at Harvard Medical School. "But how much do you think you save if you prevent one teenager from smoking? We're now putting a number to that in a way that's user-friendly. And we're actually saving money."

Oriol now wants to develop a web-based version of this "return on investment calculator" to put a value on other types of preventative health services. Oriol's findings appear online in the June 2 issue of the journal BMC Medicine.

This program aired on June 3, 2009.

Sacha Pfeiffer Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.