Public preferences for prevention versus cure: what if an ounce of prevention is worth only an ounce of cure?

Journal Article (Journal Article)


The belief that small preventive efforts bring large benefits may explain why many people say they value prevention above all other types of health care. However, it often takes a great deal of preventive medicine to prevent a bad outcome. This study explores whether people value prevention or cure more when each brings the same magnitude of benefit and examines whether preferences for prevention or cure vary according to the severity of the disability of the patients who can receive the preventive or curative intervention.


289 prospective jurors were presented with a policy dilemma involving how best to allocate funds to benefit people with varying levels of disability. Each project was said to influence the functional ability of 100 nursing home residents, either by improving their level of function or by preventing their level of function from declining.


When given a choice between preventive and curative interventions, more subjects preferred the preventive intervention (37% vs 21%, p=0.002). However, when the strength of people's preferences was taken into account, the preference for preventive interventions was not statistically significant (p=0.135). With both preventive and curative interventions, the subjects preferred helping patients with more severe disabilities (p < 0.005 for both comparisons). This preference for helping more severely disabled patients did not differ for prevention and cure (p=0.663).


When the magnitude of benefit was held constant, the subjects slightly preferred prevention over cure. In addition, they preferred directing limited resources toward those with greater disabilities, regardless of whether those resources were targeted toward prevention or cure. These findings suggest that previously stated preferences for prevention over cure may result from a belief that small efforts at prevention will be repaid by large reductions in the later need for cure.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Ubel, PA; Spranca, MD; Dekay, ML; Hershey, JC; Asch, DA

Published Date

  • April 1998

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 18 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 141 - 148

PubMed ID

  • 9566447

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1552-681X

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0272-989X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/0272989x9801800202


  • eng