Background: 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' is a common saying, and indeed, most health economic studies conclude that people are more willing to pay for preventive measures than for treatment activities. This may be because most health economic studies ask respondents to compare preventive measures with treatment, and thus prompt respondents to consider other uses of resources. However, psychological theorizing suggests that, when methods do not challenge subjects to consider other uses of resources, curative treatment is favored over prevention. Could it be that while prevention is praised, cure is preferred? Methods: In two experimental studies, we investigated, from a psychological perspective and using a between-subjects design, whether prevention or treatment is preferred and why. In both studies, participants first read a lung cancer prevention or treatment intervention scenario that varied on the prevention-treatment dimension, but that were the same on factors like 'costs per saved life' and kind of disease. Then participants completed a survey measuring appreciation (general and monetary) as well as a number of potential mediating variables. Results: Both studies clearly demonstrated that, when the design was between-subjects, participants had greater (general and monetary) appreciation for treatment interventions than for preventive interventions with perceived urgency of the intervention quite consistently mediating this effect. Differences in appreciation of treatment over preventive treatment were shown to be .59 (Study 1) and .45 (Study 2) on a 5-point scale. Furthermore, participants thought that health insurance should compensate more for the treatment than for preventive measures, differences of 16% (Study 1), and 22% (Study 2). When participants were asked to directly compare both interventions on the basis of a short description, they preferred the preventive intervention. Conclusion: It appears that people claim to prefer prevention when they are asked to consider other use of resources, but otherwise they prefer treatment. This preference is related to perceived urgency. The preference for treatment may be related to the prevention-treatment dimension itself, but also to variations on other dimensions that are inherently linked to prevention and treatment (like different efficacy rates and costs per treatment).
Meertens, R. M., van de Gaar, V. M. J., Spronken, M., & de Vries, N. K. (2013). Prevention praised, cure preferred: results of between-subjects experimental studies comparing (monetary) appreciation for preventive and curative interventions. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 13, . https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6947-13-136